Minnesota ABE Disabilities Portal

Minnesota Adult Basic Education Disability Specialists

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Source: Guidelines for Special Education Evaluation and Services for Students with Traumatic Brain Injury, Division of Special Education, Children, Families & Learning, Revised 2000.   Adapted for ABE by Linda Strand with additions for other disabilities.

How to Better Communicate With Persons Who Have Speech-Language-Cognitive Impairments

  1. Give the person your full and complete attention.
  2. Make sure you face each other so that you can watch the person's mouth for cues as to the word he/she is saying.
  3. Encourage the person to use shorter sentences and /or to use “telegraphic” speech (i.e. to use only the necessary words to get across the message, as one would do in a telegram).
  4. Prompt the person to speak louder if necessary. Give them instructions to take in a deep breath and “push the words out.”
  5. Suggest the person repeat the message. Sometimes a second attempt will result in a clearer production.
  6. Ask the person to exaggerate the pronunciation of his/her words.
  7. The listener should watch the mouth of the person for cues as to what sound they are producing.
  8. Suggest the person say one phrase at a time and allow you to repeat each one after him/her. This allows them to put all of their effort into a few words. Your repetition serves to slow their production and allows immediate recognition when they are not being understood.
  9. Interrupt if you do not understand. Repeat any part of the message you did get and ask him/her to go from there.
  10. Try having the person say only one word at a time. Again use the echo procedure.
  11. Ask the person to spell particularly difficult words. Echo each letter.
  12. Try to have the person write responses.
  13. A student can spell words out by pointing to letters on an alphabet chart, or on a communication board made up of letters and words.
  14. Some persons who are non-readers may use a picture communication system.
  15. Occasionally assume some of the responsibility for the communication difficulty by making comments such as “I’m sorry. I’m not understanding you well today.”
  16. Have the person rephrase their message by using different words.
  17. Suggest that they speak more slowly.
  18. If the person has difficulty initiating speech, allow the individual ample time to get started without interrupting his/her concentration.
  19. Ask the person to “stretch out” the vowels just a little.  This should help to slow his/her rate.
  20. Give the person feedback such as an affirmative head shake or a “yes” to indicate you understand what he/she is saying.
  21. Don’t pretend you understand when you do not. Repeat what you did understand and ask him/her to continue from there.
  22. Even though you are trying to simplify the process of communication, try to keep your tone as adult like as possible. Stay away from the tendency to talk very loudly or exaggerate each word.
  23. If you are unable to hear or understand someone’s message due to distractions (background noise, too many people talking) move to a quieter area and resume your conversation.

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