Communication with Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities and Psychiatric Disabilities: A Summary of the Literature

Published: 2012


Governmental agencies serve individuals with Intellectual Disabilities (ID) and Psychiatric Disabilities (PD) and must consequently communicate with these individuals at multiple points, from interviews with claims representatives to written notices sent to applicants and beneficiaries about highly complex material. We review the social scientific, survey research-based, cognitive testing-based and other relevant literatures regarding effective communication with these individuals. Given the nature of governmental contact with individuals with ID and PD, particular interest falls upon formal written communication, but other modes of communicating factual information (e.g., telephone, in-person) are also within the scope of this literature review. We evaluate what is known regarding the receptive and expressive communicative capacities of these individuals. We attempt to evaluate what is known about the communicative strategies to determine how the literature may inform a set of evidence-based best practices regarding for effective and efficient communication with individuals with ID and PD.

Key Findings

    We summarize a list of best-practices from the literature when attempting to communicate with and understand individuals with intellectual or psychiatric disabilities, and when fashioning in-the-field policies for these individuals:

    • Respect for the autonomy of the individuals being served.
    • Sensitivity to the stigmatizing power of labeled disabilities.
    • Active involvement of clients in the design of programs.
    • Individualization of communication strategies to meet the specific needs of the particular client.
    • Multidisciplinary collaboration, cooperation and communication.
    • Family and/or community collaboration, within the boundaries of confidentiality requirements.
    • Ongoing exploration of both new and traditional communication media.