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Learning Centre

Communicating and Interacting with Individuals with Developmental Disabilities

The United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognizes the importance of communication to enjoying all human rights and freedoms. Every individual has the right to communicate.  Like anyone, when individuals with a developmental disability communicate effectively with their caregivers, they can better participate in daily activities such as choosing clothes to wear, foods to eat, or activities to enjoy.  That can lead to a healthier quality of life. It can also improve staff and caregiver satisfaction because it eliminates guesswork and frustration.

The following are some general tips for communicating effectively with individuals with a developmental disability. Remember, every individual has a unique communication style.

  • Be patient. Individuals might need extra time to ask or answer questions.
  • Find out how the individual communicates. The person might use some or all of the following: speech, sign language, gesture, pictures, a communication device, facial expressions and body language. All methods of communication are valid.
  • Find out how the individual expresses ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
  • Get the attention of your communication partner. Use their name, make eye contact or touch them respectfully before and during the conversation.
  • Use pictures, drawings, and gestures to go along with your words.
  • Use simple and uncomplicated sentences.
  • Speak slowly and repeat verbal information multiple times if needed.
  • Use a respectful tone and volume. Do not treat adults like children.

What resources are available to improve communication and interaction?

References

http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/intellectual_disability

http://www.mrrc.isr.umich.edu/publications/Papers/pdf/wp264.pdf

http://sac-oac.ca/sites/default/files/resources/Speech%20and%20language%20tip%20sheet_EN.pdf