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Communicating with a person with an intellectual disability

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Effective communication the person you are caring for who has an intellectual disability is essential.

Below are ten tips to ensure that you always respect the person and treat them as a unique human being.

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The importance of communication

People with an intellectual disability sometimes, but not always, have limitations with respect to adaptive functioning. Adaptive functioning refers to the way in which the person adapts to their environment depending on the context.

Intellectual disability sometimes affects communication development and may have an impact on social skills. Your care receiver may feel that they are experiencing prejudice.

In turn, this affects communication between you and the person you are caring for. As a caregiver, communication becomes a central issue.

Working with games in class, educational activities at school or at day camp, artistic activities or physical or sports activities can be crucial in this regard.

Communication is therefore a global issue: to help your care receiver communicate and to be able to communicate with them, you yourself must learn to communicate with assistance, support and mutual aid resources.

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Physical or sports activities

Participation in physical activities or sports can have a positive impact on many levels for a person with an intellectual disability: the development of physical skills, self-esteem, autonomy, the adoption of healthy lifestyle habits. And so much more.

In turn, physical activity promotes communication between you and your care receiver and provides an opportunity to connect with resources and services.

Art activities

Participating in art activities can give your care receiver the opportunity to discover their artistic potential and thus improve self-esteem, pride and a sense of accomplishment. Art allows the person you are caring for to communicate, connect with their surroundings and express their emotions.

Art is also an interface between the person and society: it is a useful tool to raise awareness of the reality of people living with Intellectual Disability. Here are a few suggestions:

By extension, artistic activity promotes communication between you and your care receiver and gives you the opportunity to access resources and services.

Ten tips for communicating with the person you are caring for

  1. The person with a disability understands what you are saying. Use simple words, rephrase as needed or use assistive and alternative communication tools (pictograms, Makaton);
  2. Listen carefully, be patient and responsive;
  3. Remain natural without infantilizing the person;
  4. Offer to help, but don’t do it for them;
  5. Cultivate empathy;
  6. Respect their learning pace;
  7. Use humour to defuse difficult or tense situations or to discuss a topic such as sexuality;
  8. Value the person’s efforts, deeds or actions;
  9. Use concrete language, e.g., “Put on your coat” instead of “Get ready”;
  10. Explore the person’s interests, such as art or sports and physical activities.

Assess your care receiver’s needs and your own

Communication is also important between yourself and assistance and support resources. The Office des personnes handicapées du Québec offers personalized assistance to people living with a disability, their families and their care receivers to help them access services:

  • The service plan is developed in collaboration with you, your family, your care receiver and the stakeholders from the various sectors involved. It specifies your expectations and needs, the list of necessary services and the organizations or individuals responsible for providing the services;
  • The needs of your care receiver and your own needs in terms of information, psychosocial support, daycare, respite care, emergency assistance, and support with daily tasks are assessed and identified.
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Need to talk?

Contact our Caregiver Support Helpline for counselling, information and referrals.

Every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Free of charge.

call  Caregiver info :  1 855 852-7784