Communication exchanges for children with an Intellectual Disability

Communication abilities for a primary aged child with an Intellectual Disability (ID) will be variable depending upon the degree of intellectual impairment. If we consider that children who have a normal range IQ, say 100, may still have some impairment in language development, then we can assume that for those children with an IQ of below 70 in the intellectual impairment range, there is going to be some degree of delay present.


Communication can be broken into two categories, expressive and receptive. Expressive communication is how we initiate interaction which is either orally, by sign language, through a technology device or other forms of aided language display.  Receptive communication is how we interpret, decipher and process our response to communication interactions.

If the child also has a further learning disability such as Autism Spectrum Disorder(ASD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD) then there may be further considerations for effective communication.

If your child is experiencing a communication difficulty and has not had a formal assessment by a speech therapist it would be recommended to gain one. This assessment will assist you and the school to put in an intervention support plan that targets communication development.

This intervention may be in the form of one on one or a group therapy session, the development of an aided language display, the use of a technology device or possibly learning sign language. If a speech therapist does become involved with your child it is a good idea to have them attend your school planning meetings.

In the meantime you can work on the development of communication at home and in the community. Depending on the severity of your child’s’ ID you could use some of the following ideas to help your child to develop expressive and receptive communication skills at home:


  • Verbal communication- when referring to something, have the item and label it eg. with an apple in your hand say ‘apple’ or when your child is getting dressed say ‘socks on’ and point to the socks. If your child picks up or points to an item encourage them to label it or help them to do so and have them repeat the word.
  • Visual communication- develop a schedule eg. ‘First / Then’ to identify either by item, photo or word. First- drink / Then- iPad. Have an aided language display available to your child so they can also initiate conversation and their needs.


  • Delayed response- depending on your child’s’ level of impairment their ability to respond will possibly be delayed. Allow sufficient time for your child to process the information and then respond either verbally, using sign language, through their aided language display or technology device.

Remember your child will require many opportunities to develop communication skills and the way in which they communicate may change overtime as they develop and their needs change.

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