March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, and we’re talking all month long about how we can all be better advocates for the people with disabilities. Jennifer Hoesing is the Director of Development with DakotAbilities. She joined us to share how we can better communicate with people who use non-verbal communication.

Related: How to be more inclusive of people with disabilities

Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world in different ways. These differences aren’t viewed as deficits. They present opportunities to increase acceptance and inclusion of those who are different from us

Jennifer Hoesing, Development Director at DakotAbilities
Jennifer Hoesing and Ashley Thompson on the set of KELOLAND Living
Jennifer Hoesing and Ashley Thompson on the set of KELOLAND Living

We all communicate. Some people of use words and conversations to communicate. Others might use a communications device, a word board or yes/no answers. Eye contact, smiles and looking away are additional means of communication. People who do not use verbal speech are still communicative – all people communicate! It’s important for people to re-think ability by thinking of behavior as communication.

Nonverbal communication tips:


1) Communicate directly with the person. Get to eye level to communicate. Be clear with your speech. A good place to start is a question with a yes or no answer. Be patient and wait for a response and remember that eye contact and a smile might be the answer you are looking for. Similarly, the person looking away might be an answer, too.

2) Provide additional processing time, and support individuals to take turns in conversation. Remember to speak with the person first, and ask someone supporting second if you still need help understanding.

3) Look for other ways to communicate. A handshake, fist bump or high five are ways to communicate to someone to let them know you see them. This is a great way to let someone with a developmental disability know that you value them as a person.