Supporting people with communication difficulties

There are a number of ways that we can help people who have communication difficulties.

Difficulty expressing

If someone you know has difficulty expressing themselves, you should:

  • Give them time to find the word or words they are looking for
  • Structure questions carefully, for example by using yes/no questions such as “would you like a cup of tea?”,  or closed questions such as “tea or coffee?”, rather than open questions like “what would you like to drink?”
  • Acknowledge difficulty if you’re not sure what they’re trying to say and suggest returning to the topic later. Do not pretend that you understand
  • Offer cues if you think you may know what they want to say, for example you could say “does it begin with ‘c’?” or “Is it something that has happened today?”
  • Encourage them to give you clues, for example ask whether they are talking about an object, an action, a person, a place, or what colour or size the thing they are talking is or what use it has
  • Check you have understood them correctly correctly, for example you could say, “so you are telling me that you want to go home rather than rehab?”

Difficulty understanding

If someone you know has difficulty understanding what is being said to them, you should:

  • Gain their attention at the start of your conversation
  • Use names of people and places instead of he, she or it
  • Say one thing at a time, pause frequently and emphasise key words
  • When communicating something more complex, break your speech into sections or smaller steps
  • Give them time to process your words and time to respond
  • Use short sentences and simple language
  • Make eye contact and listen carefully
  • Slow down your speech but use normal adult language and tone of voice
  • If there is no problem with hearing, do not shout or raise your voice
  • Repeat or rephrase what you have said if they have not understood
  • Use touch, for example on their shoulder, to get their attention if appropriate
  • Trial writing down choices, such as “home or hospital” if the person can read single words
  • Ask questions to check that you’ve been understood