Making communication work

In person: Many people with a learning disability prefer face to face and one to one communcation.

In writing: Use bigger text and bullet points, and to keep writing at a minimum. Too much colour can make reading harder for someone as well.

On the phone: Speak slowly and clearly, using easy to understand words.  


Communication isn't just about talking, it's also listening. When you're communicating with someone with a learning disability, think about your tone of voice and your body language, as well as the words you use.

Being a good communicator

To be a good communicator with people with a learning disability you need to:

  • Always use accessible language
  • Avoid jargon or long words that might be hard to understand. 
  • be prepared to use differenet communication tools
  • follow the lead of the person you're communicating with
  • go at their pace, check you have understood and be creative.

“Sometimes I’ve got the words in my mind, and I’m trying to explain it in the best possible way, but it doesn’t always come out.”

Having a communication difficulty?

Remember, everybody is unique, so take the time to ask the person you're communicating with what works best for them.

Try to imagine:

  • Not being able to read this
  • Not being able to tell someone else about it
  • Not being able to find the words you wanted to say
  • Opening your mouth and no sound coming out
  • Words coming out jumbled up
  • Not getting the sounds right
  • Words getting stuck, someone jumping in, saying words for you
  • People assuming what you want, without checking with you
  • Not hearing the questions
  • Not being able to see, or not being able to understand, the signs and symbols around you
  • Not understanding the words, phrases or expressions
  • Not being able to write down your ideas
  • Being unable to join a conversation
  • People ignoring what you're trying to say, feeling embarrassed and moving away
  • People not waiting long enough for you to respond in some way, assuming you have nothing to say and moving away.

Top 10 tips for communication

  1. Find a good place to communicate in - somewhere without distraction. If you are talking to a large group be aware that some people may find this difficult.
  2. Ask open questions; questions that don't have a simple yes or no answer.
  3. Check with the person that you understand what they are saying e.g. "the TV isn't working? Is that right?"
  4. If the person wants to take you to show you something, go with them.
  5. Watch the person; they may tell you things by their body language and facial expressions.
  6. Learn from experience - you will need to be more observant and don't feel awkward about asking parents or carers for their help.
  7. Try drawing - even if your drawing isn't great, it might still be helpful.
  8. Take you time, don't rush communication.
  9. Use gestures and facial expressions. If you're asking if someone is happy or unhappy, make your facial expression unhappy to reinforce what you're saying.
  10. Be aware that some people find it easier to use real objects to communicate, but photos and pictures can really help too.

Remember, all communication is meaningful, but you may need to work harder to understand.

Further help

Many people with a learning disability can use or recognise some signs. Signalong and Makaton are both Sign Supported English systems. They are based on British Sign Language (BSL), but are used to support the spoken word. 

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