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People with intellectual disabilities may employ a number of different strategies and tools to communicate. Some people use tools, including communication assistants, graphic communication boards or computer-voiced systems. Feel free to ask the person how best to communicate with them

  • Always talk with the person, not to an assistant or family member, and use a typical tone of voice.
  • Use words everyone understands. Use the same word to describe the same things even if it sounds boring.
  • Say important information in a logical order, one step at a time.
  • When answering questions, smile, nod your head and say something positive to let the person know it is good to ask questions. Ask if they have other questions.  Get them involved: “What do you think?”
  • Some people with intellectual disabilities may need things explained in multiple ways, or to have reminders of what has been covered already. Some people may need help communicating with you. They may use a human assistant or a communication board.
  • Some people need support in using written materials. They may prefer an audio recording or a large-print version. Or they may prefer for you to read materials to them, and do a follow up later. When you are reading aloud, some people may prefer to discuss the content to enhance accessibility. Refer to the guide on accessible publications (pdf) for more tips.
  • Avoid abstract questions about times and dates. It can be helpful to talk about time in terms of concrete details such as before work, after dinner, the color of the sky or the leaves or what was on television at the time.
  • For more tips, see Green Mountain Self-Advocates’ Communication Guide