Communication Issues in People With an Intellectual Disability #AtoZChallenge

Hi everyone. I’m late today with my letter C post in the #AtoZChallenge. Today’s topic is communication issues facing individuals with an intellectual disability.

Intellectual disabilities can be described as mild, moderate, severe or profound depending on IQ or perceived level of functioning. As a result of this, but also due to other factors such as co-occurring autism, individuals with an intellectual disability vary in their ability to communicate in the same way non-disabled people do. Those with a mild intellectual disability are often able to speak and even read. In fact, I was surprised when I came here to my current care home to find out that several of my fellow clients can read quite well. Those with more severe intellectual disabilities, may use other methods of communication.

In general, communication methods can be divided into three categories: pre-symbolic, symbolic and verbal.

Pre-symbolic communication involves the type of communication that precedes symbols such as pictures or signs. It includes vocalizations, body language, and facial expressions. Individuals with profound intellectual disabilities often use this method of communication exclusively. It might be tempting to think that people who cannot use symbolic communication, cannot make their wants known. However, I remember at my first day center with my current care agency meeting a woman who was clearly at this level, but the staff knew what her favorite essential oil was.

Symbolic communication involves pictures and photos. Please note that some people may be able to use just a few familiar ones, while others’ abilities are broader. However, you will never know what a person is truly capable of until you get to know them.

Verbal communication involves speech and sign language. Most people with an intellectual disability have a mild impairment, so will be able to express themselves verbally. That being said, you still need to check whether they truly understand what you were saying. For example, some people with an intellectual disability will have very concrete, literal reasoning.

People with an intellectual disability often do not do well with closed questions, because they will answer what they think the other person wants to hear. As a side note, so do I! However, too open-ended questions are not useful either, as they require the person to retrieve a lot of information. This, again, goes for me too. Either/or questions may be helpful with some, although I’ve seen people with severe intellectual disability usually pick the last out of the options.

It is usually recommended to use short, simple sentences with everyday words (no jargon). People should be even more aware of the individual’s body language than when communicating with people who don’t have an intellectual disability. I want to say this goes for interactions with people with mild intellectual disabilities too. I mean, it is common sense to workers in care homes for individuals with profound intellectual or multiple disabilities to pay attention to minor changes in a person’s expression. However, here at my current care home staff often say that residents lash out for no reason at all. I doubt this is true.

11 thoughts on “Communication Issues in People With an Intellectual Disability #AtoZChallenge

    1. I agree. Honestly, I don’t blame you, as often even staff working with intellectually disabled people forget these things and I hadn’t thought of some of them myself.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome and thanks for stopping by. I agree it is important to be aware of the issues facing people with disabilities. I mean, presuming competence is one thing but don’t forget that people with a disability do have their impairments when compared to the general population too.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This was interesting. We have good friends with a non-verbal autistic son who is now in his late teens. They have done a fantastic job raising him and he is a joy to be around. We also have a close friend with a grandson who is severely disabled due to a childbirth injury but he still can clearly demonstrate both pain and joy.

    My A to Z Blogs
    DB McNicol – Small Delights, Simple Pleasures, and Significant Memories
    My Snap Memories – My Life in Black & White

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing your perspective. I think honestly that even the most severely disabled people are capable of expressing pain and joy if we care to get to know them well enough to coomprehend their body language.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This was helpful. Thank you. I know that listening is important. Now, I’ll add that observing is important, too, and sometimes the way that I’m going to “hear” what someone wants to say.

    Liked by 1 person

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