Communication Is Different for Everyone…Not Impossible!

As an In-Home Support Respite Specialist with Aspire of WNY, Jennifer Rockenstein has realized that we can’t take simple communication moments for granted as we go through the developmental stages of speaking.

Every month, Jennifer provides ten hours of respite with Ashley, an individual supported by Jennifer and Aspire of WNY. Ashley is mostly nonverbal, but she will babble sounds on occasion. When Jennifer hears this, she always encourages any sound she produces and reciprocates back. They have had many babbling conversations back and forth over their years together, deepening their understanding of each other and of Ashley’s goals. So, even though no one observing them would understand what they’re saying, Jennifer continues to encourage any conversation Ashley would like to have as she realizes that communication looks different for everyone with all abilities.

Ashley also loves to read and flip through magazines. This is an activity she can accomplish on her own. She particularly enjoys Us Weekly or People magazines because she seems to be drawn to celebrities, fashion, jewelry, or “hot guys,” as she calls them. Jennifer helps to provide magazines so that Ashley feels enabled to read materials she enjoys and feels happy seeing objects and people that build her confidence.

Recently, in January 2024, Ashley handed Jennifer a Buffalo Healthy magazine. They sat on the sofa and read the issue together, learning about 7 easy fitness resolutions. Ashley then moved to sit in her hallway on the floor, turning the pages of the magazine and babbling along to herself and to Jennifer while turning the pages. To an outsider, it may have appeared to be nonsense. However, Jennifer realized that Ashley was conversing with her in her own language. To encourage Ashley even more, Jennifer told her how she loved to hear her read. Ashley responded by cracking up, laughing, and having a look on her face that told Jennifer: “I am so proud of myself.”

Music is Ashley’s other passion. She loves to listen to the Buffalo Bills Shout song while kicking and bending her legs, clapping her hands, cracking up, laughing, and smiling a ton. Ashey is even able to do the Buffalo Bills’ Hey-ayyyyyyy-ayyyyyyyy-ayy! shout in her own language, along with many other vocal sounds that help her communicate.

At Aspire of WNY and beyond, we realize communication is powerful for the people we support. And just like Jennifer and Ashley, it is critical that we all allow each other to communicate in our own ways, listen with open ears and hearts, and encourage all of those we come in contact with to tell their story, no matter what shape it takes. 

Thank you, Jennifer and Ashley, for being such an inspirational duo!