Speech Impairment

Some ways to facilitate and encourage communication when caring for someone with a speech impairment.

According to the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, approximately 2.1 million individuals in the United States have some type of speech impairment. Speech impairments may be caused by a variety of factors, including brain injury, drug abuse, hearing loss, mental retardation, neurological disorders, physical impairments (including such conditions as cleft lip or palate) and even physical and verbal abuse.

Recognize that, just like hearing or vision impairments, speech impairments can significantly limit the ability to communicate. In children, this may affect early social development. But these problems can be equally devastating for the elderly, who may face them quite suddenly, because of an event such as a stroke. Strong feelings of frustration, anger, shame, and isolation may occur. The person may totally withdraw. As a caregiver, it’s best to be prepared for these kinds of reactions.

If your loved one has a speech impairment, pay particular attention to the way you talk and interact with them. It may help to review the following communication pointers with other family members and friends:

  • Politely request your loved one to repeat a statement if you do not understand it
  • Allow your loved one to speak for him or herself. Do not interrupt, attempt to answer for him or her, or “finish their thoughts.”
  • Do not hurry the person when he/ she is communicating with you
  • Ask some questions that require only a short answer or nod
  • Be honest. If you don’t understand what’s been said, say so.
  • If you cannot understand your loved one after he or she has tried to tell you something a few times, use pen and paper.

These tips have the best effect when they are used consistently. One of the most important things that you can do is continue to patiently communicate with the person. Ask what he or she feels when talking to others. Follow up on positive communication methods your loved one points out, and work together to ensure the negatives occur less often.

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