The world can be a confusing and frightening place for Vladik, aged 5. Sudden movements or sounds can scare him. Vladik has moderate learning difficulties, restricted mobility and delayed speech. Fortunately, our partners Communication Space in Moscow, have been supporting Vladik for more than a year. He is extraordinarily lucky to have such skilled, patient and compassionate people working with him. They are able to spot all the small things that Vladik can do, and have the knowledge and experience to be able to build on this.
When Vladik is relaxed, he can say some full phrases. When he’s stressed or overloaded, particularly in group situations, he finds it difficult to say a word, or to understand what is said to him. So, our colleagues have been using a variety of alternative communication methods, alongside speech, to help him understand his surroundings and join in with activities. He understands visual timetables, a series of pictures to show what’s going to happen next, which helps reduce the element of surprise. He can use a tablet to choose what activity he wants to do next. To help him join in with group activities he has buttons he can press to say “hello”, “goodbye”, or “more”.
It used to be thought that these alternative forms of communication would stop children developing speech. Therapists now understand that the opposite can be true. Communication Space creates a low-stress environment for children like Vladik, where he can develop his full potential. It is a huge task to reduce the stigma surrounding communication difficulties and the ignorance about methods that can help them.
Of course we can only reach a small number of children and young people with this kind of intensive support (17 over the last year in Moscow). However, we are co-funding Communication Space to run training courses for professionals and parents, to translate online resources into Russian, and to produce videos to both raise awareness of Alternative Communication and to teach some of the techniques. By contributing to our work, you are giving children and young people across the Russian-speaking world a voice. As our colleagues say, “just because someone cannot speak, does not mean they have nothing to say.”