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Communication Partner Tips: 5 Easy to Teach Handouts

As a speech-language pathology professional, you’re a pro at communicating with your patients no matter the severity of their communication disorder. Onlookers watch in awe at what must look like magic.

But you know that there’s no fairy dust involved—just years of hard work and practice. So how do you teach communication basics to your patients’ loved ones and caregivers?

In this post, we offer easy-to-teach communication partner tips for expressive aphasia, receptive aphasia, dementia, motor speech, and AAC.

Feel free to copy and paste these tips to create your own handouts. Or check out our shop for hundreds of evidence-based handouts and worksheets.

communication partner tips for speech therapy

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Communication Partner Tips: Expressive Aphasia

communication partner tips for aphasia
  • Give the person your full attention
    • Turn off the TV, set your phone aside, and look at their face

  • Encourage the person to write, draw, or use hand gestures

  • Give the person extra time to respond

  • Be comfortable with silence—long pauses are okay
    • It’s not necessary to fill pauses with small talk

  • Avoid guessing the word or speaking for the person unless asked for help

  • Write down key words to improve understanding

  • After the person speaks, summarize what was said and ask if you understood correctly

  • Avoid “quizzing” the person—this may cause frustration

  • Avoid “speaking down” to the person
    • Use simple sentences and talk slower only when needed

  • Avoid speaking louder unless the person has a hearing loss
    • Aphasia doesn’t affect hearing, so speaking loudly does not help

  • If communication breaks down or the person looks frustrated or exhausted, take a break—come back to it later

More Expressive Aphasia Articles

Communication Partner Tips: Receptive Aphasia

informal speech-language pathology assessments SLP
  • Give the person your full attention
    • Turn off the TV, set your phone aside, and look at their face

  • Ask yes/no questions, one at a time

  • Get to the point and avoid extra information

  • Communicate in different ways
    • Talk, pantomime, use gestures, facial expressions, pictures, and writing

  • Repeat what they said, then ask if you understood correctly

  • Give the person extra time and be patient

  • Ask them to repeat what you said

  • Avoid speaking louder unless the person has a hearing loss
    • Aphasia does not affect hearing, so speaking loudly does not help

  • Avoid pretending that you undersatnd
    • Instead, ask them to repeat it or say it a different way
    • Apologize for not understanding—let them know that you want to understand

  • If communication breaks down or the person looks frustrated or exhausted, take a break—come back to it later

More Receptive Aphasia Articles

Communication Partner Tips: Dementia

communication partner tips for dementia

For these tips, we summarize The MESSAGE Communication Strategies in Dementia developed by The University of Queensland in Australia.

It’s an evidence-based approach to training caregivers of patients with dementia. If you’re interested in learning more, the university provides lots of free support materials online.

Message Communication Strategies in Dementia, The University of Queensland

MESSAGE Communication Strategies in Dementia

(Adapted from cambridge.org)

M – Maximize Attention

  • Attract Attention
    • Address the person by name
    • Move to their eye level
    • Maintain eye contact
  • Avoid Distraction
    • Limit external distractions by turning off the TV or radio or moving to a quieter place

  • One At A Time
    • Try to make sure that only person talks at a time
    • Try not to hold other conversations when talking to a person with dementia

E – Expression and Body Language

  • Relaxed and Calm
    • Be aware of your facial expression, tone of voice, and body language when talking to a person with dementia
    • Try to appear as relaxed and calm as possible

  • Show Interest
    • Use your body language to show that you are interested
    • Face the person, lean forward, and nod your head when appropriate

S – Keep it Simple

  • Short, Simple, and Familiar
    • Use short, simple, and direct sentences
    • Use familiar words
    • Use nouns and names, rather than pronounds (Say Maria, the chair, etc. instead of he, she, it)
    • (You can use simple language without talking down to someone)

  • Clear Choices
    • Help the person express needs or wants by offering clear choices
    • Use questions with yes or no answers
    • Suggest choices (“Would you like water or tea?”)
    • In the later stages, you may need to limit questionsto one choice with a yes or no answer (“Would you like chicken?”)

S – Support Their Conversation

  • Give Them Time
    • Communication is harder if a person is feeling rushed, so give them extra time
    • A good rule is to wait 5 seconds after you’ve finished speaking before you expect a response

  • Find the Word
    • There are several ways you can help the person find the right word:
    • Suggest a word
    • Repeat the unfinished sentence with a suitable word in place
    • Ask, “Do you mean ___?”

  • Repeat then Rephrase
    • If the person doesn’t seem t understand what you have said:
    • First, try repeating your sentence
    • If that doesn’t work, say the sentence in a different way

  • Reminders of the topic
    • Clearly state the topic of your conversation
    • Repeat the topic throughout the conversation
    • Make it clear when you are changing the topic. Do this by stating the topic change or leaving time between topics

A – Assist with Visual Aids

  • Gesture & Action
    • Use gestures (pointing and actions) when speaking to help clarify what you are saying

  • Objects & Pictures
    • Use visuals as well as speech, by showing:
    • The object you are talking about
    • A picture of the object or topic
    • Written words

* Use visuals instead of speaking when people are having greater difficulty understanding words. Showing them familiar objects or actions can trigger understanding when words fail.

G – Get Their Message

  • Listen, Watch, & Work Out
    • Pay attention to words and non-verbal clues. You may need to use both to work out (understand) the person’s message

  • Behavior & Non-verbal Messages
    • The person may communicate through their behavior:
    • Facial expressions or where the person is looking ca give you information
    • Be familiar with the person’s life, likes, dislikes, interest, and routines. This may help you decipher their message

E – Encourage & Engage in Communication

  • Interesting & Familiar Topics
    • Encourage conversation about familiar and interesting things such as:
    • Photos (see our post on how to make a memory book)
    • Memorabilia

  • Family & Friends
    • Encourage conversation whenever you get the chance. Encourage friends and family to do the same
    • Don’t ask test questions
    • Don’t argue if the person seems confused about reality. Instead, acknowlege their feelings, give assurances as needed, and try to move on gently to another topic

Communication Partner Tips: Motor Speech

communication partner tips for apraxia and dysarthria
  • Give your full attention
    • Listen and watch the entire time the person is speaking

  • Confirm the topic
    • Check that you and the speaker are both on thee same topic
    • “Are we still talking about…?”

  • Use keywords
    • Refer back to words the speaker said to try to create a full narrative
    • “You said ‘dinner’. Were you talking about dinner with your family next week?”

  • Encourage writing, drawing, or gesturing

  • Repeat each word.
    • If the speaker is especially hard to understand, repeat each work they say. Confirm that each word is correct before moving on to the next word

  • Set ground rules.
    • To avoid frustration, have a set number of times the speaker tries to say something before they take a break or use AAC.

Communication Partner Tips: AAC

communication partner tips for AAC

Teach the following tips to help a communication partner successfully start and continue a conversation with someone using an AAC device.

  • Have the conversation in a quiet setting

  • Reduce distractions: turn off the TV, silence your cellphone, etc.

  • Make eye contact often and avoid staring at the AAC screen

  • Be prepared for longer pauses. The flow of conversation using AAC is different from talking.

  • Speak directly to the person and not the assistant or caregiver

  • Ask open-ended questions (not yes or no questions) to encourage conversation

  • Wait at least 5 seconds for each response

  • If you’re feeling lost in the conversation:
    • Be honest if you’re having a hard time understanding
    • Continue speaking directly to the person while making eye contact
    • Confrim what you think you understood by repeating it back to them
    • Ask to confirm the subject. “Are we still discussing___?”
    • If either of you start feeling frustrated, then move on to the next subject and come back to it later

Communication Partner Tips: More Resources

communication partner tips for speech therapy
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