Working Alongside People with Intellectual and Learning Disabilities


Often at your first meeting with a person you will have some indications that make you suspect that a person has some cognitive limitations.  These can include but are not limited to -

  • That they have slow and steady speech.
  • That they are keen to please you – acquiescence.

  • They may have difficulty in reading and writing.

  • They may not maintain eye contact and have a short attention span.

  • They may ask you a lot of personal questions or talk about things not related to your meeting.
  • They may talk about things that do not seem to follow a logical order.

  • Sometimes you will notice physical characteristics that mark their body.

  • Most people work very hard at covering their intellectual difference and will not tell you if they have this label.
  • The person may not define themselves as having a disability, but may say they 'need some help with reading and writing'.

Effective communication:

  • Use clear and simple language.
  • Ask the person if they would like to have a support person in the room.
  • Allow time for the person to process the question and formulate a response.
  • Look for non-verbal indicators that the person has not understood, is confused, or anxious.
  • Check for understanding - e.g. "I just want to make sure that I've explained this clearly. Can you tell me what we have just talked about?"
  • Be aware of acquiesence - when someone may say 'yes' because they don't understand or they think that is the answer you want.
  • Present information visually and verbally. They may wish to take away written information to show a support person, to talk it over.
  • Avoid sentences which contain two or more concepts.
  • Allow a longer time for meetings, possibly having several shorter meetings rather than one long one.
  • Avoid abstract concepts where possible. Explain things in concrete ways (concrete is what can be seen or touched).
  • Create opportunities for people to ask questions.
  • Use open-ended questions to enable the person to talk in their own words.
  • Use direct or closed questions to obtain specific information.
  • Time and sequencing may be an issue - if so, try to use questions that connect with other aspects of the person's life.

WWILD Sexual Violence Prevention Program is funded by the Department of Communities, QLD. & the WWILD Victims of Crime Disability Training Program is funded by the Department of Justice and Attorney-General, QLD

WWILD Phone: (07) 3262 9877 Email: Address: 211 Hudson Road, WOOLOOWIN QLD 4030 Contact hours: Monday to Friday 8.30am - 4.30pm