Impacts of Communication

Impacts of disability

Social impacts

Everyone needs social interaction. It is part of being human.

Our relationships and social experiences influence how we see ourselves and how others see us.

However, communication difficulties can be a barrier to social interaction. Other people may not know they need to allow more time for replying, or how to use a person's preferred way of communicating.

Sometimes, other people make negative assumptions, for example, about a person who uses AAC to communicate, someone who stutters, or a person with aphasia struggling to find the words they want. These assumptions can limit social opportunities.

Communication partners can help by understanding the social impacts and finding ways to overcome them. Sometimes, this means using ways to communicate that don't involve speaking.

Barriers to personal relationships

People with communication difficulties may face barriers to relationships. They may have fewer friends and fewer positive social interactions. They may have less frequent options for social activities.

This can affect their physical and mental health. It can lead to loneliness.

Lack of social opportunities means less practice in learning how to interact. It takes time to develop the skills for social situations. It takes experience to feel comfortable connecting socially with others.

People's preferences for how to communicate are personal. In general, social skills include knowing how to listen when others talk, suitable things to to talk about, how to respond to things you disagree with, and how to share a joke, and much more. Not knowing these things can lead to further social barriers.

Social media and online communities can provide a way for some people with communication difficulties to increase social contact. They can make friends, and access education and entertainment. However, people who have difficulties understanding others or saying what they want may be at greater risk for abuse and exploitation online.

Kai, talking about how communication disability affects relationships with others

‘When I can’t communicate myself, it would be very stressful because they would look at me in a way, and I think that would be a way of saying that ‘hey, you’re saying stuff a bit weirdly.’

Being ignored, excluded, or avoiding socialising

Being ignored or excluded from interaction can negatively impact a person’s confidence. It can result in loneliness and isolation, depression, anxiety and fear.

A person's ability to speak may not represent their interest and ability to interact and communicate. But sometimes other people assume it does.

‘If you want to know what it is like to be unable to speak, there is a way. Go to a party and don’t talk... Here is what you will find: people talking; talking behind, beside, around, over, under, through and even for you. But never with you. You are ignored...’

Rick Creech, advocate of independent living and independence through AAC (Source in Learn More)

Trying to overcome communication barriers can take a lot of energy. Having to say something over and over until someone understands you is very tiring. This is why communication partners need to be sensitive to fatigue and energy levels.

Peter, who has dysarthria after a stroke, which makes his speech slurred

‘I try to avoid social situations because I can't talk and people can't understand me. I find myself having to repeat myself all the time, which is very tiring.'

Stress, frustration and anger

When someone regularly has difficulty communicating what they want to say, they can become stressed, frustrated, worn out or angry.

Sometime these feelings lead to the person making loud noises or hitting things or people. These are not behaviour problems.

All behaviour is communicating something. A responsive communication partner will try to work out what a certain behaviour really means. They will try different ways to get the message. They will also look for ways to reduce stress, frustration and anger. They will try to avoid communication when someone is tired.

If a person has had limited opportunity for social interaction, they may also need help to learn appropriate ways to get their message across.

Aria, mother of Paloma who is 6 years old, talking about the changes as Paloma learns to use a speech generating device

‘Prior to learning to use her device, she was often very frustrated. She had certain behaviours, like biting, as a quick and easy, instant way to show her frustrations and her anger.'

Learn more

Quote from Rick Creech sourced from Beukelman, D and Mirenda, P. (2005). Augmentative and alternative communication: supporting children and adults with complex communication needs. Paul H. Brookes, Baltimore, Md. Rick Creech is the author of Reflections from a Unicorn, 1992, R C Publishing.

Diverse Groups eSafety Produced by Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, an Australian Government initiative. This page discusses the Online Safety Act, and provides information for protecting diverse individuals and communities who are more at risk of online harm or abuse. It includes Easy Read resources.