The Importance of communication when supporting people with learning disabilities

Gail Withington, Service Manager, for our day centre in Wakefield, shares her thoughts on the importance of communication in the health and social care sector, specifically for people with learning disabilities.

We rely on various forms of communication when supporting people across our services. With communication, it’s important to understand the individual, how they express themselves, their wishes and needs. We tend to find people become anxious and display challenging behaviour when they cannot express themselves or when they feel they are not being understood. Developing clear lines of communication allows us to understand the people we support and likewise, for them to understand the team caring for them.

I believe good communication can help build trust, relationships and confidence. It plays a key role in helping us provide high-quality care and truly understanding the needs and wishes of the people we support.

Types of communication tools and how they benefit the people we support

Verbal communication

Verbal communication is a great tool. Talking in a soft tone helps build a calm atmosphere and reassurance, while keeping language simple, without jargon, means it’s easier for people to understand.


Other forms of communication include Makaton. This is a visual communication tool, which uses both hand gestures and picture symbols. Makaton is used by over 100,000 children and adults across the UK, who use it as their main communication tool or to support speech. It is often used by people with learning disabilities, autism, multi-sensory impairments and communication difficulties to help them to understand and interact with the people and the world around them.

Visual cues

Visual cues are another way we communicate with individuals in our services. It’s simple to do and can be used in a fun way too. For example, if someone wants a hot drink, staff would hold up coffee or tea for the individual to point at. Visual communication is a great way to help people understand spoken language and encourage people to make choices, even when verbal communication isn’t viable for them.

My team use schedules or timetable to help people what activities they could enjoy throughout the day. This is important because many individuals who come into our service enjoy routine and structure. Not having that can lead to challenging behaviour or people feeling anxious.

Social stories

Social stories are another form of communication and we use this to communicate changes. This works well for autistic people as it helps them prepare for change and bring structure to their life. For example, if someone we are support has a dentist appointment, we would show them a picture of a dentist followed by a toothbrush to show them what will happen. This helps an individual break down the information slowly at a pace they are comfortable at and eliminates sudden change in their routine.

Body language and tone of voice

Body language and tone of voice is also very important and can aid situations where people feel anxious. Using a soft tone and calm gesture shows compassion and reassures people that may be feeling worried.

While these methods may be different, it’s important to note that all forms of communication can help build routine and boost self-confidence.

Combining communication and person-centred care

Person-centred care is about supporting people’s individual needs and working with them to identify what their care should look like. It gives the people we support control over their care and allows them to be a part of the support process. Effective communication gives us the opportunity to learn about a person and that equips us to properly tailor their care and support to their needs.

Everything we do is about the person we support and that’s why it’s important to collaborate with their families, medical professionals and other organisations involved in their lives.

Collaboration gives us a better picture of how to support the individual and communication helps us to find the right tools so we can help them lead happy, healthy and independent lives.

Find out more

To find out more about how we can support people with learning disabilities, please visit our Learning Disabilities page or fill out our quick enquiry form.

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