Tips for Communicating With Adults Who Have a Speech or Language Disorder


[en Español]

Speech and language disorders are common in adults. Some people have difficulties understanding language, whereas other people have trouble expressing themselves. Some people have difficulties with both. Be a good communication partner!

To help someone understand you better, do these things:

  • Get the person’s attention first.
  • Keep your voice at a comfortable level. You don’t need to talk louder unless they ask you to do so.
  • Keep the words you use simple but adult. Don’t “talk down” to the person.
  • Slow down as you speak.
  • Use short sentences. Repeat key words that you want them to understand.
  • Break down directions into small steps. Repeat directions as needed.
  • Use pictures, gestures, writing, and facial expressions. Someone with communication difficulty may understand those better than words.

To help someone express themselves better, do these things:

  • Give the person time to communicate their message.
  • Watch their body language and gestures. These visual cues may provide additional information and context.
  • Let the person know when you have trouble understanding. Don’t pretend to understand.
  • If you don’t understand their whole message, then repeat the part that you understood. This way, they won’t have to start all over again.
  • Ask them to draw, write, point, or gesture if they’re having trouble communicating—or if you’re having trouble understanding.
  • Use “yes” and “no” questions to offer simple options and to make sure that you understand their message. Say a person’s messages back to them, as needed, so they can tell that you understood them correctly.
  • Give choices instead of asking an open-ended question. For example, “Do you want to watch TV or go to the movies?” instead of “What should we do this afternoon?”
  • Let them make mistakes. They may not be able to say everything perfectly all the time. The important thing is that they get their message across.

To help people better understand AND express themselves, do these things:

  • Ask the person how they prefer to communicate or what you can do to support them.
  • Be patient. It may take an extra moment for someone to get their words out or to understand your message. Extend courtesy and kindness.
  • Get rid of distractions (e.g., turn off the TV or the radio).
  • Don’t make assumptions. This includes assumptions about a person’s intelligence or capabilities to perform certain tasks as well as their preferences and/or life choices (e.g., whether they want to participate in a certain activity, pursue a new job or responsibility, etc.).
  • Educate yourself. Speech and language difficulties can occur for a variety of reasons, and they show up in many different ways. Learn more from trusted sources such as the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) so you can best support your communication partner.

You may not remember to do all of these things all of the time, but you can vastly improve a person’s communication success by trying your best. If you want to help someone connect with treatment, search for a certified speech-language pathologist in your area through the ASHA ProFind national database.

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