How to support someone with communication difficulties

Written by Therapy Focus Advanced Occupational Therapist, Glenna Tan

Communication is a basic human right and a crucial part of learning and development – but it’s also something that successful communicators can take for granted. By modifying the way we interact with people who have communication difficulties, we can support them to communicate effectively and be heard.

Imagine what it would be like if you were unable to speak or had difficulty getting your message across.

Anyone can experience communication difficulties, but it is especially common for individuals with a disability.

therapist talks to girl

Top tips for effective communication

  • Respect is paramount. Always treat the person with the dignity and respect they deserve.
  • Learn about the different ways to communicate. This can include gesture, eye gaze, pointing at symbols, sign language and the use of aids like augmentative and alternative communication systems.
  • Find out the person’s preferred communication method and ask how to help them communicate, including the use of aids they may need.
  • Make sure you have the person’s attention before attempting to communicate.
  • Try to avoid loud locations and any unnecessary noise, as this could distract the person and hinder their ability to communicate. Try to find a quiet place to talk.
  • Remember to use a friendly tone of voice and try not to get frustrated. This could negatively impact their willingness to communicate.
  • Make eye contact where possible to show you are listening, but be mindful of potential issues someone may have with eye contact. For example, someone with autism who feels uncomfortable with eye contact.
  • Allow enough time for a response if you ask a question. Wait patiently for the person to reply and repeat if necessary or say it in a different way.
  • If you don’t understand a person when they are communicating, it is better to tell them so you can work out a better option together.
  • Simplify your language. Maybe try asking the person simple yes or no questions if you are having trouble communicating.
  • Always listen. Listening is the key to effective communication.


When working with someone who has communication difficulties, it is vital to have discussions with the individual, their family, carers and/or therapy team to work out a plan of action and effective communication strategies.

Therapy Focus speech pathologists help children and adults with disability develop their speech, language, literacy and communication. This can include support for the use of Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) systems and solutions for people whose communication needs are not met by speech or writing. Learn more here.

For more information about our speech pathology services, contact us on 1300 135 373.