learning disabilities communication

A Guide to Communicating with Learning Disabilities

Posted on
March 10, 2023
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Communication is key to children and adults expressing their needs and wants. It’s essential to interact with the world around us. Learning disabilities communication can set challenges for these individuals. Let’s understand what learning disabilities are and how these individuals can communicate.

What is a learning disability?

A learning disability (LD) is a lifelong neurological disability that can affect not only a child’s language underpinnings/overall communication, but also their swallowing. While this is not always the case, a learning disability can also co-occur with other illnesses that are psychological and psychiatric in nature.

How can learning disabilities affect communication?

A child with learning disabilities has numerous problems with language including reading, spelling, and writing. Most people with LD have normal to above-average intelligence. Even though many others judge individuals with LD to have below-average intelligence.

It’s important to remember that other aspects of academics can be impacted by LD as well, including math and social studies. This impacts their overall communication as it pertains to answering questions, decoding words in reading, summarising information, and being able to bridge oral and written communication. These skills are also crucial in conversation, which requires individuals to break down the information produced by their conversational partner(s) and respond to it with relevant information.

How do people with learning disabilities communicate?

Because there are different types of LD, people with LD communicate differently.

These are the two main types of learning disability classifications and this is how they communicate:

Non-verbal learning disabilities:

  • Some of these individuals have difficulty with cognition, but most primarily struggle with reading non-verbal cues including facial expressions and body language, and may have poor motoric coordination, visuospatial challenges, and social difficulties.
  • How do they communicate? Due to challenges with picking up on non-verbal nuances, children in this category will often communicate using literal language and not have an understanding of non-literal language. They may pick up on the wrong intentions of their peers as they misunderstand body language and facial expressions, and communication can sometimes be categorized as interrupting their peers in conversation or not knowing when to enter or exit a conversation due to not matching non-verbal cues to intent/feelings.

Learning disabilities communication that is based on verbal:

  • These individuals have difficulty with oral language and written expression and often are classified as having Specific Language Impairment (SLI) also known as developmental language disorder (DLD).
  • How do they communicate? These individuals will have trouble understanding how sentence structure and syntax affect sentence meaning. Due to this barrier, they will misinterpret sentences because of the order of words ie. “the box is  inside cubby” as “the cubby is in the box.” This can cause the child at school to misunderstand directions and communicate without asking for repetitions or clarification of these directives.

learning disabilities communication
Learning disabilities communication in children

How is a learning disability a barrier to communication?

A learning disability is a barrier to communication-based on our previous discussion, but if we take it a step further, the following barriers can make communication especially difficult:

  1. Difficulty with learning new skills (this includes language acquisition) due to cognitive delays
  2. Difficulty socializing with peers due to misinterpretations including less engagement in play
  3. Difficulty with expressing needs and feelings
  4. Difficulty with problem-solving during conflicts due to misunderstandings in social situations
  5. Difficulty with accessing language/ core vocabulary in their academics

Why is communication important in learning disabilities?

Communication is at the core of how all individuals express their needs and wants. It’s the basic form of interaction with the world around them. Therefore, it is equally important for individuals with learning disabilities to communicate, as an interpretation of the world around them may not come as easily.

Individuals with learning disabilities may face a lifelong challenge, but as speech and language pros, we can help! The good news is that through communication tools/supports, these individuals can develop strategies that foster their communication.

Communication tools for learning disabilities:

  • Allowing opportunity for one-on-one in-person communication
  • Using big font in reading and writing
  • Speaking slowly and clearly
  • Using wait time to check for the child’s understanding of information in conversation

It is important to identify a child's learning disability early so that future academic and social challenges can be reduced while optimizing both oral and written communication. This requires collaboration between parents, teachers, and the speech and language professional! Don’t forget to include the child as a therapeutic partner so they can advocate for their learning needs.

You may find our previous blog useful on how to encourage a toddler to talk.

Learning disabilities communication references:

Learning Disabilities Association of America

ASHA | Learning Disabilities

RCSLT | Learning Disabilities

ERIC Institute of Education Sciences

Sarah Lyons
Clinical Director, United Kingdom
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How does a learning disability affect communication?
Communication with learning disabilities may pose as a challenge for children trying to interact with the world around them. Children with learning disabilities communication, can work on acquiring gestures and simple speech systems to assist.
Can learning disabilities be a barrier to communication?
Yes, learning disabilities can be barriers to communication. These barriers can include learning new skills, expressing one's needs, socializing with others and accessing core language.
What is learning disabilities communication
Learning disabilities communication is described as a neurological disability that affects overall speech and language development.