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Caring for adults
Caring for adults

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4.2 People with learning disabilities

Mencap [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] gives this advice for communicating with people with learning disabilities:

‘As long as they have the right support to learn, people with a learning disability can achieve anything. As long as you communicate that support to somebody in an understanding way.’

It is important to always use accessible language, and to avoid jargon or long words that might be hard to understand. You should also take into account any physical disabilities the person may have that could make communication difficult for them.

  • In person: many people with a learning disability have told Mencap that the best way to communicate with them is face-to-face and one-to-one.
  • In writing: in writing, it is a good idea to use bigger text and bullet points, and to keep writing at a minimum of 16 point. It is also important to remember that too much colour can make reading harder for some people.
  • On the phone: the best way to talk to someone with a learning disability on the phone is slowly and clearly, using easily understandable words.

[An insightful comment from someone with a learning disability.]

‘When I had to go to the hospital the doctors would usually speak to my mum rather than speak to me. So I didn’t bring her to the hospital anymore. Finally they started to recognise I’m the one, I need to understand, not my mum.’

(Source: Mencap, 2016)

Some people have communication difficulties that are a result of a brain injury, such as a stroke, and have to learn to communicate in a different way as part of their recovery. Some ways of supporting this are as follows:

  • Give the person your full attention and try to avoid any background distractions. Try to speak clearly at a normal volume.
  • Listen and watch for the person’s reactions; remember – not all communication is verbal.
  • Don’t try to speak for the person, or finish their sentences.
  • Don’t pretend you’ve understood the person if you haven’t, or try to speak for them.

Carer’s tip from Scope

Often, we do so much for people they don’t have the need or opportunity to communicate. This is where ‘sabotage’ can come in. Put important objects in a place where the person needs to ask for them; give a meal with no cutlery (again, so they have to ask). Find ways to manipulate situations to necessitate communication.

(Source: NHS, 2016)