12 Tips to Communicate Effectively with Adults with Intellectual Disabilities

Some people with intellectual impairments have trouble comprehending complicated language and revealing their feelings and thoughts orally. While someone with an intellectual disability may have specific thought processes, communication abilities, and learning styles that are different from your own, there are plenty of steps you can take to help foster effective communication.

Here are 12 tips to facilitate proper communication and strengthen communication levels with someone who has an intellectual disability.

  1. Since it takes two people to communicate effectively, take responsibility to ensure you are doing everything to make yourself understood. Also, be sure you understand the person correctly to reduce the chances of confusion.
  2. Check if an individual has a current speech pathology or psychology examination to grasp a more detailed understanding of his or her needs when interacting with others. If no assessment is prepared, reach out to someone close to the person to gain insight into the optimal ways of communicating with him or her.
  3. Decrease the number of other people around when you are trying to communicate with an individual with an intellectual disability. This will reduce the chances of interruptions creating distractions and causing a lapse in communication. However, if the person wants another individual to be present for assistance, allow them to bring supportive individuals who may be able to provide comfort during the process.
  4. Remove any distractions in the area you choose to communicate in, including visual and auditory disturbances like a television or radio. Refrain from meeting in a high-traffic area and instead communicate with the person in a space far away from continuous noises and activity.
  5. Make clear statements when addressing the individual to ensure him or her that the conversation will not be shared with others and is private. This will facilitate trust and make the process of communication smoother.
  6. Use simple words that are easy to comprehend rather than abstract words that are difficult to imagine and reflect on things such as “goals” or “dreams.” If you absolutely must use abstract terms, make sure you give the person examples to help him or her grasp a better understanding of the significance of these words.
  7. Many people with intellectual disabilities have a hard time remembering dates and events, so use a calendar or diary in order to create a visual outline of chronological events and to symbolize the passing of time.
  8. Keep in mind that questions concerning “who,” “what,” and “where” are far easier to comprehend than those regarding “when,” why,” and “how.”
  9. Be sure to communicate with concise, simple sentences and present ideas gradually.
  10. When presenting choices, incorporate pictures in hopes of helping the individual remember his or her options.
  11. Refrain from asking yes or no questions in a direct fashion. It is best to insert questions into a narrative or story-line that references the reason for the question.
  12. Remain observant, and be willing to rephrase or ask questions in alternative ways to ensure both you and the individual understand one another.