One of my most important functional communication probes is just a piece of cardboard and some colored blocks.
Two people face each other with the cardboard blocking their view. One gives instructions to the other about how to set up the blocks. They can only use words, no gestures. They’re allowed to ask questions. The goal is for the structures to look the same (in mirrored form since their rights and lefts are opposite). Usually, lots of skill levels are revealed. For the instructor, can they take the other’s perspective? Can they explain clearly with lots of description? Do they anticipate the mistakes the listener might make, and adjust what they say to avoid the mistake? For the listener, do they know when they’re confused? What can they do if they’re confused? Can they do exactly as instructed? Are they ready to listen to the instruction? Do they know how to explain what their difficulty is?
So typically the first few times, they make mistakes. I point out the breakdowns and ask what they could do differently next time. Then they switch roles. In each session, I watch how they get better at giving and listening to directions. Sometimes, I mix it up so the student has a different listener. The instructor’s communication may need to change for a new person if their learning style is different. This teaches the flexibility that’s built into the fast, dynamic social situations in our everyday lives with many communication partners.
I believe the communication breakdowns in this exercise are a metaphor for the miscommunication leading to fights, misunderstandings, even wars! And the more my students are aware and adapt to different people’s styles and abilities, the better equipped they’ll be to handle what happens at school, home, and at a job.
I had two students do this exercise recently. The instructor didn’t communicate well and the listener just did whatever he wanted. It took about 4 sessions before they were on the same page. By that time, they understood what was hard for the other student and what to do about it (ask more questions, repeat it several ways, etc.).
One of my students did a barrier game with his parent. It turned out, the parent wasn’t always ready for the initial instructions the student gave and kept asking questions that required the student to start all over (“which block?”). The student became very frustrated. We discussed what happened and figured out what they could do differently (parent should attend to the first part of the instruction; student should take a deep breath and calm down). In the next session, they had really worked it out. Each one really made an effort to use the strategies we discussed. Their block structures were a perfect match due to their efforts!! I was so proud of them. I’m hoping that they can now carry the strategies over into their daily communication. I’ll be sure to ask at the next session!
Do you know anyone who would benefit from a barrier game? CONTACT ME.