Stop what you’re doing right now and just listen for a full 30 seconds.
What did you hear? How long did it take for you to tune into certain sounds? Did any of those sounds make you smile or laugh out loud?
For Alexander, sounds are an important way to engage with his surroundings. He lives with a rare disorder that has deep impacts on his body, including his sight – Alexander is considered legally blind. But it has definitely not impacted his hearing or his sense of humour.
Alexander lives at Matthew’s House, a home facilitated by Communitas Supportive Care Society. Holly Mast is the assistant manager at Matthew’s House. She says Alexander’s sense of hearing gives him a good sense of what is going on in his surroundings.
“He can be sensitive to loud or unpleasant noises but knowing how to navigate this makes a big difference,” Holly explains.
Connecting with Alexander through silly voices, words, or sounds helps him focus on his sense of humour, rather than what he is experiencing as unpleasant. Alexander loves to laugh and be the funny guy, which Holly says comes easily for him.
Alexander enjoys people and is especially fond of the staff members he’s gotten to know. One of those people is Elaine Moore, a program director with Communitas. Over the years, Elaine has noticed that Alexander is drawn to specific sounds that make him laugh – like the tapping of her high heels.
“I would show up at Matthew’s House wearing heels and Alexander would laugh when they clicked on the floor,” Elaine says. “Then when I wore flats, which made no clicking sound, he would ask for my high heel shoes.”
Elaine promised she would wear them the next time she came to visit him. She would walk beside him and Alexander would laugh at the echoing sound that her heels would make on the floors.
“I would walk faster and then mimic the sound of a horse clopping, which made Alexander laugh even more,” Elaine says.
It also gave Elaine an idea.
Elaine was aware that one of the accountants at Communitas, Kelly Beaulieu, is a talented tap dancer. Elaine reached out to Kelly and invited her to come and dance at Matthew’s House so that Alexander could hear the tapping of her shoes. Kelly agreed, grateful for the opportunity to visit Alexander in his home.
A few weeks before the visit, Alexander listened to the music to which Kelly would dance. This helped him prepare for the special event. Holly says he engaged with the music immediately.
“I played the song for him and certain instruments were making him crack up,” Holly says.
On the day of the dance, both Alexander and Kelly expressed feelings of nervousness, but once the strains of “Tuxedo Junction” began playing, only the sounds of tapping and music mattered.
Alexander chose to face away from Kelly so that he could concentrate on the sounds. The “clackety clack” sounds were his favourite, reminding him of a train. His housemates also enjoyed the performance but Alexander’s smiles said it all.
“I love tap dancing,” he said.
Kelly enjoyed the experience too.
“I welcomed the chance to visit a home again because I don’t get to go as often,” Kelly said. “I hoped that Alexander would enjoy my sounds and it would be a thing for him to remember.”
Elaine is grateful that Kelly took the time to prepare and do this unique thing for Alexander. For her, the experience is an example of Communitas’ commitment to inclusion.
“I think this shows not only how we include the people we support but that we look for ways to include staff who may not work directly with the people we serve,” she says.
When the performance was over, Alexander presented Kelly with a gift.
“Thank you so much,” he said. “I loved it.”