How to Enhance the Communication Skills of Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD)



Many persons with IDD experience significant social and communication deficits when compared to their mental age peers.  Even the higher functioning persons with IDD behave and communicate in inappropriate ways.  They often remain deficient in social interactional skills and conversational exchange even later in life (Loveland & Kelly, 1988).  For this reason, I’ve developed a communication education program to help our consumers and athletes enhance their communication skills.

Enhanced methods for teaching communication to the IDD population should include the following: (a) using visual supports to teach initiations, (b) application of object, and (c) movement cues, repetition, and reinforcement strategies.  The most common modes of communication reported in this population were gestures and speech.  It is of value to practitioners to know whether a specific teaching method or intervention can produce communication skills that will transfer beyond instructors, instructional setting and that will endure over time (Snell et al., 2010).  Our weekly presentations include all of the above-mentioned steps.  It is amazing to see the level of interaction, as well as the learning acquisition of the program’s participants.


Furthermore, I utilized what is called “Conversational exchange” to help build strong and imaginative communication between the students.  Conversation exchange is an informal conversation between peer partners and communication books that includes experiential learning, which allows the learner to actively and purposefully engage in their own learning.  The contents learned during experiential learning should go beyond the classroom to practical experience.   Consersational exchange also embodies the relationship between teaching and learning (Snell et al., 2010).  The aim is to help the student to develop creative capacities by presenting the following steps:

  1. Allow communication between peers.
  2. Help student to materialize what was presented.
  3. Show the student appropriate ways to exchange communicate.
  4. Display the material.
  5. Demonstrate the material.
  6. Reveal meaning of material.
  7. Expose to view repetitively.
  8. Share and summarize.


The process of conversational exchange revolves heavily around visual metaphor and analog (Snell et al., 2010).  Finally, I encourage the use of PowerPoint presentations as the main vehicle to deliver our programs.  Providentially, studies have demonstrated that students prefer PowerPoint and respond favorably to classes when it is used.  Students preferred the use of key phrase outlines, pictures and graphs, slides to be built line by line, sounds from popular media or that support the pictures or graphics on the slide, color backgrounds, and to have the lights dimmed. It is recommended that instructors pay attention to the physical aspects of PowerPoint slides and handouts to further enhance students’ educational experience (Apperson, Laws & Scepansky, 2008).


In a nutshell, I’m very proud of our instructors and students for the level of engagement that they put forth in teaching/learning the communication program.  I love to watch our student reverberate to me what they are learning.  I love to see them practice proper communication among themselves.   I’m very happy to play a small role in helping to enhance the verbal skills of adults with IDD.



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