Communication challenges refer to difficulties or barriers that can interfere with a person’s ability to effectively communicate with others. These challenges can affect different aspects of communication including speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Some common communication challenges include speech disorders, such as stuttering or apraxia, that make it difficult to articulate words and intellectual or developmental disabilities that may impact a person’s ability to produce clear and understandable speech.
Do you know someone who experiences communication challenges? Supporting each person to live the life they want means supporting them to communicate who they are and what they care about. Here are five ways that you can support someone to express themselves fully.
- Don’t speak for the person. Too often people direct questions that are meant for a person with a disability to a supporter or someone without a perceived disability. Redirect clerks, doctors, waiters, and others who fall into this ableist habit to speak directly to the person. Make sure the person has a chance to respond in whatever mode of communication they use, before you attempt any clarification or provide additional information.
- Learn how the person communicates. It’s important to learn and become skilled in how a person communicates, so you can fully understand them and support them to speak for themselves. Remember that people often use more than one mode of communication: speech, pictures, devices, signs, sounds, gestures or other behaviors are all modes of communication that help people get their point across. Note: cultural differences and how the person thinks about their own identity may be important to their communication.
- Ask how you can help and educate others. Ask the person what they need to communicate effectively and respect their preferences. Help others understand the person’s communication challenges and how to communicate with them effectively. If you’re a support staff, helping may include documenting a person’s preferences to ensure others get up to speed quickly. This may include how the person says yes/no, requests, comments, expresses emotions, etc. If the person uses an AAC system, make sure that training on that system is given promptly. How to help the person understand your communication is important, too. This might mean you need to slow down, use shorter sentences, or add pictures.
- Give opportunities to use what the person knows. Too often people have been taught communication systems that don’t get used. PECs books, iPad apps, and sign vocabulary can fall out of use if we don’t make the effort to keep these tools current and provide continual support for their use. It’s easy to skip more structured communication when we think we know what a person wants. Make an effort to keep communication tools current!
- Offer opportunities to expand communication skills. It’s possible to expand communication skills at any age. Gaining exposure to new words/signs, learning new ways to ask questions, practicing conversation, and using technology to communicate are important ways to support communication growth and development.
It’s important to recognize that everyone we interact with is unique and their communication challenges manifest in different ways. When we support communication, we help people discover their passions, unlock potential and thrive.