Supporting Communication

Supporting communication

Tips for communication partners

Communication always involves two (or more) people.

Communication partners can make small changes to support successful and enjoyable communication.

Noah Callan

AAC user and advocate has a key tip for communication partners

'Getting used to the uncomfortable silence and dealing with it appropriately is key to communicating with AAC users.'’
(Image used with permission)

To be a supportive communication partner:

Change the setting

  • reduce background noise and distractions
  • move out of areas with harsh lighting
  • sit at the same level
  • make sure you are both comfortable
  • provide information in multiple ways, e.g. with pictures as well as words

Give full attention

  • stay off your phone
  • be alert to subtle communication signals, such as where the person looks and facial expression
  • make eye contact (unless you are asked not to)
  • show you are listening - nod, say mmm, yes, okay or other words

Allow more time and pick your time

  • leave extra time for the person to respond
  • avoid looking impatient
  • get comfortable with silence while someone uses a speech device (Watch Noah Callan below to see how long it can take!)
  • avoiding trying to communicate when someone is very tired

Be respectful

  • use the person's name
  • ask what will help with communication
  • avoid talking about the person in front of them (or to a companion instead)
  • if you ask a question, wait for the person to reply
  • find out what they are interested in
  • respect and use the person's preferred ways to communicate

Speak normally

  • there is no need to raise your voice or speak very slowly (unless you are asked to)
  • say your words clearly
  • speak in a relaxed way that allows everyone plenty of time in the conversation
  • use extra facial expressions and gestures if this helps
  • be welcoming and including

Check you both understand

  • if you don’t understand, let the person know and say you would like to continue trying
  • ask the person to repeat or try another way to say things
  • try questions that only need yes or no answers
  • use different ways of communicating, e.g. try pictures or gesture
  • if they don't understood you, try the same strategies

Humour goes a long way

Navigating a world where other people are not familiar with your way of communicating requires persistence, patience and a sense of humour. The same goes for their communication partners!

Listen to Noah Callan's experiences using his AAC and the responses of communication partners. (Thanks to ListenABLE for permission to use this video and images from the podcast.)

Assume everyone wants to communicate

We can assume that everyone wants to communicate. It is a human need and a human right.

So, we can be attuned to every option to ensure they can.

For some people, this can involve just sitting with them and tuning in to their subtle signals of communication. It means looking for communication. They could be using their facial movements or expressions, where they look, and the sounds they make. Responding and waiting for further signals leads to interactions with the person.

For other people, the assumption that everyone wants to communicate means ensuring communications aides or supports are available and always working properly.

For others, it means respecting a person’s preference to communicate via signing and symbols.

Being present and looking for subtle communication signals, ensuring supports are available, and respecting a person’s preferences can take more time than communicating with someone who speaks. Making this time is part of respecting each person's human right to communicate.


Mother of Lisa, a young Bunjalung woman who does not use speaking

‘You have to listen with your eyes, and with a bit of heart chucked in there, and really take notice of people. You can’t just walk in and get to know Lisa straight away – what she wants and what she needs – that takes time.’

Learn more

Tips for successful communication at Speech Pathology Australia's page Communication disability and communication access