Photo by Julie Wu, volunteer and therapy dog handler for Fidos For Freedom, Inc.
A trainer exited Pi’s Deli behind me and said, “Great team chatter”.
I’m always so eloquent. I responded, “Ummmmm”, with a questioning look that spoke volumes.
Fidos For Freedom’s trainers have had a LOT of practice and experience with people with hearing loss. She rephrased. “Good communication with your dog”.
When I hear a “new for me” phrase, I am often scrambling to catch up to the conversation as I work to interpret the meaning. Having been partnered with Chloe since 2007, I think I can safely say I’m a veteran team. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still learn new things, however. Phrases like “team chatter” may be heard, but not understood until I spend a few minutes pondering it.
What does it mean?
Team chatter is important in a service dog team for two primary reasons. Team chatter keeps your dog’s attention on YOU if you use their name a great deal and talk to them. A second reason, however, is that service dogs need to know when they are doing something right! The tone and certain words connect with them.
This trainer may not have put two and two together like I did when preparing for this post. But the trainers use team chatter as well. When I did something right, this trainer told me so. If something needed polishing, she would tell me. She gave feedback throughout the certification segment we were doing that morning. She is a trainer and I am a client. However, we too, are a team. We are co-volunteers – even teammates in an organization we both love. Fidos For Freedom, Inc. (see http://www.fidosforfreedom.org/ for more information).
Why People with Invisible Disabilities Need Team Chatter
In psychology we use the phrase, words of affirmation, to explain the inherent need we have to receive “high 5’s” literally and figuratively.
Paul Hulijich explains, “The mind is very powerful, and it needs to be spoken to. We are all aware of the power of being told, for example, that we look well; it often immediately evokes the feeling of being well. We are influenced by what people say to us” (Hulijich, 2012, para. 3). Since I have had to learn to do a great number of things “differently”, it means a lot to me when a trainer, friend, or family member tell me that I handled something well.
My husband praised me for how I chose to ascend and descend a number of steps in various arenas this last weekend. Even with Chloe in a close “heel”, I’m just not safe on steps in large cavernous – or open air – places. I didn’t make a big deal about it, only reminding Terry, my husband to either stand immediately in front of me, or behind me. Placing a hand on his shoulder is all I need to keep from falling when going down steps. Going up is a little trickier, but we still have a well-rehearsed plan. He told me, “You use steps with a lot more confidence now. You don’t even miss a beat”.
I don’t know about YOU, but it means a lot when someone notices what was once trial and error, becomes a well-polished, good habit. I need affirmation when I’m told that I pick up cues about my volume better. It means a lot when someone notices that I grin and advocate when having a near miss in a crowded hallway, and make it a learning opportunity.
One day last week, Chloe did not accompany me to work as she wasn’t feeling well. (She has chronic early morning acid reflux). I only had two classes that day and so opted to let her stay home with my husband since he was off. Just like any normal day, I dropped a number of things in the classroom. One student watched with wide eyes as I braced myself against a desk and used my foot to pick up a stack of quiz sheets with a rubber-band around them. “Oh my gosh, you do that without even thinking about it! You live YOU very well!”
I blushed but also BEAMED at the impromptu praise. What Greg said, echoed the beat of my heart. This is what I want – to live ME very well.
We Can Use Team Chatter too!
Do you have a hearing loss? Do you live with a balance disorder? Have you learned to navigate life with low vision? Do you have a chronic or invisible illness? Whether you are new to “the new you”, or a veteran, there are people around you who could use some team chatter.
I know, I know! It may not always seem as if they are ON YOUR TEAM, but there are still co-workers, friends, and family members who could benefit from being told when they are doing something RIGHT.
Sarah, a person with low vision, once asked me where her husband was. I pointed and said, “He’s right over there”. She reached up and grabbed my pointing arm and followed it with her hand in the direction I was pointing. Off she went in the RIGHT direction, leaving me pondering my own OOPS. After that, I did much better about responding with phrases like, “at your 9′ o’clock”; or, “over your left shoulder about 25 feet away”.
She noticed. “Denise, you do a great job at giving me directional assistance. It really helps!” I’ve tried to remember to do the same for the folks in my life.
“Thanks for re-phrasing that. I understood it perfectly the second time. You don’t even have to think about doing that for me now. Thanks!”
“I appreciate you habitually moving to allow me to stand next to the side when we get on the elevator. It really helps to have something to lean against”.
“Thanks for ignoring Chloe when we talk in the office. I know you love dogs, and because she knows you it can be hard to ignore that wag! It really helps me though, so thank you!”
As a person with both Meniere’s disease and hearing loss, I do a lot of reminding about what works well to assist me, and what does not. (This can be tricky because we don’t want to embarrass or offend someone!) Sometimes I feel like I’m constantly in “education mode”. Yet, we need to remember to tell folks around us when they get it right! It affirms what they do or say in interacting with us. Perhaps they even just need to hear that they “leave us be” in a healthy way! “Thank you for not assuming I needed help with that and waiting to see if I ASKED for help”.
I hope you will work to incorporate team chatter into your own relationships. Words of affirmation and open communication can be so important. Don’t assume others know when they are doing a good job. Let them know!
Hulijich, P. (2012). Affirmations. Psychology Today. Retrieved, May 12, 2012 from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mind-wellness-awareness/201211/affirmations
© 2013 Personal Hearing Loss Journal