Laurie: Could this be an audio file? 3 actors.
Facilitator: “Mary, what do you see in this painting?” – the answer can be a list of items, a description of the time, place, interaction… There are LOTS of different ways to answer.
Mary: “I see a man and a woman and a dog”. Follow up can be something like, “What are the man and woman doing?” OR “Does it seem like they are happy to see each other”.
Facilitator: “Simon, did you notice what the two people are wearing?” – the answer can be a description of colours, styles, time period, and can be simple or complex, BUT it has also given this participant something specific to look at.
Simon: “The man is wearing work clothes and the woman is wearing a dress”. Follow-up questions can be used to continue or the facilitator can move on to another participant.
Facilitator: “Nancy, is the woman happy to see the man? Do you think yes or no? (while modelling thumbs up or down, since she knows that Nancy has difficulty speaking). Nancy gestures ‘thumbs up’ and smiles.
In this conversation, you can see that the facilitator has included three participants who may have very different abilities in a single conversation. The flow is smooth, and no one seems to be singled out with a specialized approach. Each responds in their own way and contributes to the experience. Each feels validated, included and pleased to share an experience.
Next, we may have a participant who has difficulty answering a question.
Facilitator: “Frances, what season do you see in the painting?” She appears to have difficulty starting an answer.
Facilitator: “Frances, this doesn’t look like winter, does it? (Frances shakes her head) – “Do you think it is summer or autumn?”
Frances: “I think it is autumn”. She may leave it at that, or having started, she may be able to elaborate, telling us that she notices there are few leaves on the trees.
If she still has difficulty, the question could be further adjusted, to have a single choice, or a yes or no answer such as, “ I notice that there are not a lot of leaves – does this look like autumn to you?”.
On the other hand, for another participant, asking which season may be too simplified. You could ask more complex questions like: “What do you notice in the painting that tells you about the season” or simply “What is the weather like?”.
This is our approach to adapting a question, making it more or less complex, to match the abilities of the participant. Your baseline will be asked at a general level, which is open enough to allow for a few different kinds of answers. Based on what you hear, you will proceed in a way that is more concrete, for a participant that needs more support, or more expansive for the participant who has more to say.
After some time together, you will have a sense of the level of questions that will be successful for each person, though you may also need to adjust on the fly, when difficulties occur. If asking one way does not work, take a step down and ask another way.
Practice this approach with the questions you already ask – step up to a more sophisticated question and step down to a two-choice question and a yes or no question to familiarize yourself with the strategy.