Learning or Cognitive Disabilities

Learning or cognitive disabilities can result in a host of different communications difficulties for people. They can be subtle, as in having difficulty reading, or more pronounced, but they can interfere with the person’s ability to receive, express or process information. You may not be able to know that someone has one of these disabilities unless you are told, or you notice the way people act, ask questions or their body language. 

Here are some suggestions to help you interact with people with learning or cognitive disabilities: 

  • Patience and a willingness to find a way to communicate are your best tools.
  • Recognize that some people with communication difficulties use augmentative communication systems such as Signed English and Picture Exchange System. 
  • When you know that someone with a learning disability needs help, ask how you can best help. 
  • Speak normally and clearly, and directly to the person. 
  • Take some time — people with some kinds of disabilities may take a little longer to understand and respond. 
  • Try to find ways to provide information in a way that works best for them. For example, have a paper and pen handy. 
  • If you’re dealing with a child, be patient, encouraging and supportive. 
  • Avoid referring to the disability or using phrases like “handicapped”. 
  • Be courteous and patient and the person will let you know how to best provide service in a way that works for them. 


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