Toward a Developmental Language


Toward a Developmental Language



Last summer, my wife and I were standing in one of those proverbially endless lines at the Fumicino airport in Rome. We listened for other English-speaking people who might be in line with us. In fact, the older woman in front of us was obviously an American. We engaged our fellow traveler in a polite conversation, and found that she was from San Francisco; that she had been leading a tour on the island of Malta; and that the language used in her tour was Esperanto.


I thought to myself, “Now that’s about as specific as you can get.” Commercially, there is a demand for tour groups to Malta, conducted in Esperanto by nice old ladies from San Francisco. What an interesting world we inhabit!


When I returned to the classroom this past fall, I found myself creating all of the picture supports that I could create. I was inspired by my experiences in Italy. Neither my wife nor I spoke any Italian. Yet somehow, we had successfully communicated our wants and needs.


I had been working on an adaptive, computer-based communication device for one of my students. So, I was very much aware of just how basic language can get while still communicating appropriately and clearly.


The decision-making process in and of itself is often a challenge for the person with developmentally altered abilities. Can every need be met with a simple “yes” and a simple “no”? What is the basic common unit that communicates those concepts most effectively for the community that I serve? What are the common experiential modes where a common understanding of that basic unit is found?


My students had never been to Rome. My students had never stood next to Colosseo and watched the cheesy Italian actor-gladiators pose with tourists for photographs.


But many of my students had seen the movie “Gladiator”. I soon found that they all understood a simple “thumbs up” and a simple “thumbs down”. It is a concept that can be rendered pictorially, and it can be rendered in a tactile format.


We have been doing “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” for nearly five months, at the Adult Transition Program where I teach. I have found that image to be more effective in communicating “yes” and “no” than any words, written or spoken.