Overcoming communication barriers - working with patients with intellectual disabilities

Aust Fam Physician. Jan-Feb 2009;38(1-2):10-4.


Background: Communication styles and communication difficulties may impact on the ability of general practitioners to provide best possible health care, particularly for patients with intellectual and other developmental disabilities.

Objective: To highlight potential difficulties GPs may face in consultations with adult patients with an intellectual disability and to raise awareness among GPs of the different communication methods used by people with intellectual disabilities. Current recommendations for improving communication with this marginalised group and practical issues in implementing these recommendations are also discussed.

Discussion: People with intellectual disabilities have different communication abilities, using a range of different styles as a group, as well as on an individual basis. They may use speech, augmentative and alternative communication strategies, or visual or behavioural cues to indicate their wants, needs or feelings. Improved collaboration between GPs, patients, and patients' support people, is encouraged to develop an individualised approach to communication with each patient and to promote best possible health outcomes and patient satisfaction.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autistic Disorder / complications
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology*
  • Autistic Disorder / therapy
  • Communication Aids for Disabled
  • Communication Barriers*
  • Communication Disorders / complications
  • Communication Disorders / psychology*
  • Communication Disorders / therapy
  • Family Practice*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability / complications
  • Intellectual Disability / psychology*
  • Intellectual Disability / therapy
  • Male
  • Physician-Patient Relations*