The Sparkling Path to Communication

Just before I started at the MGH Institute, I visited a bioluminescent bay at night.

The bay was filled with tiny phosphorescent organisms that light up when you disturb them. I pushed my arm through the water, and the water glowed gold—a beautiful sparkling trail. Then the trail disappeared into the darkness. There was no way to hold onto it.

There are people for whom thinking is like swimming in a bay of phosphorescent details. When life stirs the water, details bump into details and they glow. From this, a sparkling trail appears—an answer to a problem, a creative thought, an innovative idea. Too often this trail of thought fades into darkness. The thinker, overwhelmed by detail, struggles to communicate the trail, so the novel concept loses its sparkle and falls back into the sea.

My clients have many sparkling trails, but they have difficulty communicating them. These adolescents and adults are regularly applauded for their passion, creative ideas, and innovative problem solving. They are regularly criticized for their inefficiency, indecisiveness, and difficulty delivering succinct presentations and organized essays. Language is an agreed-upon code we use to convey meaning. We use it to help us think as well as communicate. In verbal language, we use words to label our thoughts, sentences to string those thoughts together, and a hierarchy of main ideas and details to organize it all.

Using verbal language to create a fully formed thought is not straightforward. Some situations dictate a top-down process where the focus begins with the argument and is then followed by supporting points and evidence. Other situations require a bottom-up approach, where the focus starts with the evidence and then builds supporting points to arrive at the argument.

Typically, forming an idea is a mix of top-down and bottom-up processing. Using verbal language to communicate thoughts, however, follows more of a unidirectional path. Formal presentations of information typically require top-down delivery of ideas: the topic is stated, the argument is made and supported, and the evidence is provided. Top-down communication aligns with a top-down thought process easily. A bottom-up approach does not align as easily; it is more associative in nature and thus requires that organization be found among the details in order for the content to be shared effectively.

Using verbal language to create a fully formed thought is not straightforward. Typically, forming an idea is a mix of top-down and bottom-up processing. My clients are gifted at bottom-up processing; they embrace detail and create new connections that are the roots of meaningful change. Without access to structure, however, this intricate web of rich thinking holds these thinkers at the level of the detail, hindering their communication effectiveness.

As a result, some no longer attempt to communicate their ideas; others do, but they run the risk of losing their audience before arriving at their main point. I believe all people should have the tools necessary to convey their thoughts.

I work with my clients to help them discover the organization in their creative ideas by teaching them to gather their ideas, label them, and place them into the system of language. With this increased structure, they can more efficiently and effectively communicate their ideas.

Sixteen years ago, my arm created sparkles in the water that lasted only a moment. I now work to help people hold onto their sparkles. Every day, I have a front-row seat as my clients scoop up their golden details, sort them out, and effectively organize them for delivery. Their glowing trails no longer disappear. They stay. And their sparkle can be shared.



Kimberly Stewart

Kimberly Stewart, MS, CCC-SLP, received her Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology from the MGH Institute in 2002. She treats adolescents and adults with high-level language processing difficulty and executive function weakness in her private practice in Concord, MA

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One comment on “The Sparkling Path to Communication
  1. Susan Reynolds Susan Reynolds says:

    What fascinating work!

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