Empowering people with intellectual disabilities to become active in the community begins with all of us—and it starts with learning how to speak respectfully to people with IDD.
By using straightforward language, listening intently, and other strategies, we can communicate effectively with people with IDD. They deserve to have human connections as much as anyone; their disability does not define them in the same way that your lack of disability doesn’t define you.
Explore how you can learn how to communicate effectively with individuals with IDD to make your community more inclusive.
When you’re speaking to someone with IDD, use clear language. Try to avoid using technical jargon and choose concrete language over abstract. An example of abstract language is saying, “Let’s get ready to go,” when you could say something more concrete such as, “Let’s find our shoes.”
Also, never raise your voice or yell to be understood. Speak slower, not louder. If you don’t understand something, tell them you don’t understand; give them more time. If not, you might have to find another way to communicate, possibly through visual aids.
Communicating with people with IDD can sometimes rely on body language more than verbal language. Keep in mind that inferring something through body language can sometimes be difficult due to muscle tone differences. If there’s a caretaker, check in with them to see if the person with IDD needs visual aids to communicate.
When speaking to the caretaker, maintain eye contact and otherwise continue to include the person with IDD in the conversation.
Treat Them As Peers
People with IDD aren’t children, so don’t treat them as such. Don’t patronize them or speak down to them. They love jokes or challenges as much as the rest of us.
However, you’ll need to create boundaries, the same as you do when speaking with other adults. You wouldn’t let another adult get away from bad behavior, so exceptions shouldn’t be made for people with IDD, either.
When communicating with people with IDD, never assume you know their thoughts or actions. They might need more time to find an answer to your question or to understand what is expected of them in a situation. Give them time to find the answer and never put words in their mouths.
Additionally, you should never assume a person with IDD needs your help. Always ask first.
Learning how to speak respectfully to people with IDD helps them by supporting their independence —and you. Providing equity and inclusion will make our communities more diverse, exposing us all to different points of view and experiences!