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9.3.2 Communication: Learning Disability Accommodation Service Guidance

In developing this procedure we have consulted with the following people:
Claire Bartlett – Speech and Language Therapist
Lisa Willemse – Resource Officer
Diane Skudder – Behaviour Support Team


This chapter was amended in April 2016.


  1. Introduction
  2. Behaviours that Challenge
  3. Systems for Communication
  4. Support from Professionals
  5. Responsibilities of Staff

1. Introduction

Many of the service users we support have some level of communication need. This may be due a number of reasons such as being non verbal, having sensory impairment, having language comprehension difficulties associated with their disability, or simply that due to their learning disability the complexities of language are difficult for them to understand, process and verbalise.

Having difficulties around understanding and participating in communication affects all individuals ability in many areas of life including being able to:

  • Feel a sense of belonging and self worth;
  • Interact on a social level with others;
  • Understand and make choices;
  • Present their views;
  • Have their needs met;
  • Gain positive feedback from others.

As humans we are all essentially social beings, who gain most of what we need through the interaction with others who understand us. As individuals we can all think of a time when we have had difficulties communicating with others and how difficult it was when they did not understand what we are saying. A classic example is being on holiday abroad and we are unable to speak the language. A simple request can become a lengthy and drawn out process that often involves us having to use alternative communication methods such as drawing, gesticulating, using pictures, to try to get ourselves understood. It is therefore not surprising that the service users we support often seek other ways of communicating in the hope that we will understand them.

Whichever way we approach supporting people with learning disabilities to communicate, we must remember that the service users we support are individuals and will have their own individual needs and communication styles Support must always therefore be on an individual needs basis that is tailored to meet their own communication needs. It is our responsibility as a service and as individuals, to support service users to increase their communication abilities, to understand the communication we have with them and to promote their ability to communicate with us. Getting this support right is fundamental to meeting the responsibilities of person centred care and support as outlined in the new Care Act 2014.

2. Behaviours that Challenge

The difficulties our service users have with being able to communicate can for some, result in them presenting behaviours that are challenging. It must be remembered that such behaviours serve a function for individuals, in enabling them to try to get their needs met, particularly if they have no other alternative effective method to communicate to others. It is up to us as staff to work in a way that tries to identify the functions of these behaviours and support individuals to learn and use other more effective communication methods. Supporting service users to increase their ability to communicate effectively with others can have a direct impact on the reduction of challenging behaviours they present and their overall quality of life. It is also important to be aware that effective communication is a two way process. We as supporters need to be able to understand, interpret and respond effectively to each individuals’ communication method. The Behaviour Support Team can provide support for staff in this area, see the later section on professional support (see Section 4, Support from Professionals).

3. Systems for Communication

There are a variety of ways in which we promote and seek to improve the way we communicate with service users. Some of these processes are non verbal skills that we use everyday. These include:

  • Eye contact;
  • Body Language;
  • Intonation of speech;
  • Physical touch;
  • Gesture;
  • Demonstration.

As well as non verbal skills there are also specific ways in which we seek to communicate verbally with service users. For many of the service users we support this involves staff:

  • Being clear and concise;
  • Using simple language;
  • Waiting for service users to process the words before repeating them;
  • Consistent in the use of words where agreed.

Inclusive communication is a term used to describe the use of pictures, objects, signs, gestures and spoken word to enable people to express themselves and understand what is being said. It was set up by SaLT in line with the aims and objectives of Valuing People Now (2009) and the 5 Good Communication Standards (Royal College of Speech and Language Therapist, 2012).

Some of these methods used as part of Inclusive Communication are known as augmentative/alternative communication (AAC) and can be used in support of speech. They involve the use of:

  • Makaton – this is a form of signing for people with learning disabilities, it is also more recently being taught to very young children who have not developed verbal skills yet;
  • Sign language;
  • Objects of reference – this is where individuals learn objects that represent something such as keys for going out for a drive, a cup for a drink etc.
  • Talking mats;
  • Social Stories;
  • Communication boards with pictures;
  • Visual planners and timetables;
  • Communication Passports;
  • Intensive interaction – this is about tuning into the person by listening and observing how and when a person is trying to communicate and responding at their level of understanding; sometimes this involves borrowing some of the person’s behaviours and mirroring them.

There is an Inclusive Communication Charter that is made up of 6 standards and a Communication Bill of Rights. Any Service across Brighton and Hove can sign up to the charter and nominate an Inclusive Communication Champion from their teams to get involved. There are also Inclusive Communication advisory group workshops for support and advice on a range of communication topics. Services will be awarded certificates for achievements against the standards to highlight the good work they are doing.

For more information on Inclusive Communication you can contact the Communication Officer, Lucy Westcott.

4. Support from Professionals

Advice on how to support service users with their communication needs can be sort from in house professionals SaLT, the speech and language team. SaLT can assess service users communication needs and provide advice in setting up communication systems to meet these needs and on joining up to the communication charter.

The Positive Behaviour Support Team, can also provide support around communication needs for individuals and around the use of Intensive Interaction.

The Workforce Development Team also offer a range of training opportunities for staff including:

  • Intensive Interaction;
  • Makaton.
There are also organisations outside of the service both locally and nationally such as Deafblind UK, Sense, and BILD, that can provide additional support and material or signpost on to other services.

5. Responsibilities of Staff

As staff who work in our services we have a responsibility to ensure that the service we are providing meets service users individual needs. To achieve this involves a number of areas of responsibility that include:

  • Ensuring specific guidelines are in place around communication;
  • Adhering to these guidelines;
  • Being consistent in our approach;
  • Inducting new staff into communication guidelines;
  • Ensuring accessibility of communication aids both within the home and when out in the community;
  • Role modelling good communication at all times;
  • Engaging in communication practise sessions;
  • Promoting positive interaction;
  • Being open to new communication styles;
  • Ensuring Keyworker roles are carried out, communicated and understood by the team;
  • Seeking and using the advice sort from professionals and Managers.