'Being' with Hannah
My experience of staff working with Hannah is that they generally fall into two camps. There are staff who enjoy her mischievousness, her sense of humour, her artistic talent. They enjoy her determined and quirky personality even when that means she may challenge, because behind every challenge is a reason, a communication.
The other camp are staff who just see her inability to speak, see her frustration, hear her loud noises and just want to quieten her or escape from her. They do not see the point in being with a young woman who often spends hours drawing, creating perfect illustrations without a noise. These staff often don’t last long in post, usually choosing to leave as they feel bored or unable to deal with long periods of what they consider ‘inaction’.
When working with staff I try to describe that to understand Hannah, you firstly have to enjoy ‘being’ with her. This can often mean just sitting in her room on the floor with her and engaging in some parallel play. This can mean something as simple as just watching a DVD with her (though you may never see the whole film, just selected favourite parts repeatedly), to drawing your own versions of her toys and film characters, which she will often giggle at, because I will lay odds your artistic talent is not as developed as hers.
Communication is more than words especially for those with autism and severe learning difficulties and those working with them. I would describe it as an exchange of ideas, emotions, feelings and actions, and because our young people are so wonderfully complex we have to just be with them, in their world, in their space, with their permission in order to understand their communication. ‘Being’ with someone is never wasted time; rather it is precious time in which you can begin to understand them, and they, you.
Jane, mother of Hannah.