I think my favorite lessons learned are the ones that bring together more than one aspect of my life. Here's one example, from our early years of marriage, when the kids were young, and my teacher-husband shared some of the wisdom he had learned on the job. Instead of directly praising a child for something they have done, it is often more effective to tell another adult about their accomplishment when you know they are within hearing range. Telling Grandma over the phone that you are so pleased that her grandchild is willing to try a variety of foods, or has learned to ride a bike, or just finished cleaning their room - well, it works magic!
Working with kids who struggle with just about every task they undertake - the kids with "special needs" - taught me that direct praise might even backfire and cause stress or anxiety that could turn an accomplishment into a disaster. In my behavior modification training, I learned to say "Good job!" with great enthusiasm and even greater frequency. All too often, I was caught off-guard with the reaction I got from my students. Think about it - I was asking them to do some very basic task (usually involving a motor response that took great effort on their part) such as sorting or stacking colored blocks, putting together a simple puzzle, or handing me the correct picture. I didn't know it in my early years, but these kids were SMART, and they knew that just about every other kid in the world could do such a task with no trouble at all. So, when my reaction after they struggled to perform was an enthusiastic "Good job!" - who could blame them for throwing the block or puzzle piece across the room or angrily pinching my arm!
Indirect praise was infinitely more effective once my very patient teachers helped me learn a new way to do things. Once they established that they were much more intelligent than any of us had realized, we could stop with the "baby work" and move on to things that were more appropriate to their cognitive level. One of the happiest times in my classroom was when the kids were all going regularly to general education classes with their age peers, and using Facilitated Communication to complete the same work that others were doing. I proudly displayed their typed work on the walls outside our classroom and didn't have to say anything at all. Having other adults in the building stop by to express their pleasure was the best reward of all.
In my more recent work with adults, we have at times set up visits where two or more of our typing friends can get together to chat. At times, the conversation lags and I realize that we - the communication partners who are there to provide needed support - have taken over, wandering off topic into things going on in our lives, or current events in the news, or (best of all) the lessons we have learned over the years from our silent typing friends. At first, I felt guilty when this happened. It was supposed to be THEIR social time, not ours. And yet, I realized that something interesting was going on. These folks really liked hearing about our family life, they appreciated learning about events in the news, and they really, really liked hearing that we were finally catching on to what they had wanted us to know about them all along. They silently voiced their approval by listening to what we were saying and letting us continue. We talked, they listened, and they approved.
Fast forward to my current situation in these days of Covid-19. I am no longer meeting in person with my typers, with just a couple exceptions, and instead sometimes find myself in a group online meeting as part of a team trying to make the best of these difficult times. Recently in such a meeting with one young man, a non-speaking FC user participating from his own home, he became rather restless after about 30 minutes of interaction. We had been asking him questions and he was supported in using FC to give us some insights into how he was doing. The group leader suggested that we could quit at any time if he was ready, and he typed his response: "No. You talk. I listen." And so we continued to do just that. He stayed in the room, happily listening to the rest of us as we talked about how we have been coping with the stress of having our lives changed so dramatically.
It makes so much sense. For years these individuals were misunderstood and underestimated. Many had little or no academic instruction. And yet, they were learning all the time. Many have told me via FC that they hear everything and remember everything as well. So listening is a strong suit, and if what they are hearing confirms that the people around them recognize and appreciate their intelligence, they can relax and continue learning - and continue teaching all of us.