Most of you might have come across terms like ‘communication disorder’ or may know someone who has had to learn an alternative mode of communication. Ever wondered what that means? Why is it so difficult to be able to communicate? Is it not an inherent process like every bodily function?
Well, unfortunately, communication may not be that easy for everybody. In some cases, there are significant anomalies in structures used for communication. In few others, combination of genetic and environmental factors affects brain development causing inability to efficiently communicate. Some people may have problems with language development while others have difficulty in articulating and voicing. It may sometimes be the result of disruption in single stage of communication process or the entire process itself may be inhibited. In summary, communication is a complex process!
What makes communication complex?
Communication may range from simple gestures like pointing to spoken language. Several processes have to take place simultaneously for efficient communication. It is strongly influenced by brain circuitry, cognitive functions and physical co-ordination. Read below for an overview of how it is conceptualized.
- Motivation/ reason – there is often a strong motive for communicating something to someone. Its nature depends on the person, context, setting, need and many other factors. It may be an exchange of silly jokes or a discussion of serious matters concerning life. Communication is almost always intentional!
- Message composition – You need to internally and externally elaborate on conceptualizing and forming thoughts, stringing them together, cross-checking if it is appropriate and understandable by the receiver.
- Message Encoding –The form of the message is decided. It can be in the form of writing, speech, picture or simply gestures.
- Transmission – Picking a specific channel to convey the message. The communicator chooses a medium, mostly speech or simply gestures/ body language to communicate the message!
- Quality of the signal – It refers to how well the message is communicated via the chosen medium. If it is speech, it should be clear and meaningful; if it is written, language should be appropriate and handwriting/ symbols must be understandable. It should be something that is understood by both, the communicator and the receiver.
- Reception – Communication is effective only if the message is received effectively. The receiver should be able to receive the message without interruptions like a hearing loss, processing difficulties or not knowing the language itself!
- Decoding & interpretation – Now that the message is received, it must be decoded. It simply means that the receiver must be able to analyse the message and understand its meaning as conveyed by the communicator.
These activities are not steps in a sequence, but overlapping activities. An issue or disruption in any of these processes can lead to a significant breakdown in communication, either for the communicator or the recipient.
As you may have understood by now, an inability to send, receive, process and understand concepts or verbal/ symbolic messages is known as communication disorder. Specialists have categorized these disorders for the ease of assessment and treatment.
What happens if someone can’t communicate?
A person plays many significant roles in his/ her life. From family to society at large, it is important to connect ourselves to the external environment for successful participation. Conveying need, exchanging information, sharing thoughts are all part of psychosocial adjustment and achieving goals. A person needs to communicate and be understood to live his life. The inability to communicate has several personal and interpersonal consequences for an individual and ultimately, affects his/ her quality of life. The person may feel isolated, begin to withdraw and be unable to actively participate in social activities. This has a significant effect on the emotions, leading to anxiety, depression or aggression.
What can be done about it?
Understanding what is causing the communication breakdown is the first step. A team of healthcare providers are committed to identifying such conditions and treating them. Among them, the Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) are specialists who are exclusively trained for dealing with communication disorders. Seek professional help whenever and wherever required and at the earliest. Early identification is key to early intervention and can give better treatment outcomes.