Communication Disorders in Adults

What is a communication disorder? 

A communication disorder is a broad term that is used to indicate a range of difficulties that makes it hard for an individual to get his/her wants or needs across. It can be the difficulty in producing sounds and then sequencing them in words appropriately, a difficulty understanding what is asked of someone, difficulty expressing one’s needs, difficulties using one’s voice to communicate and difficulties in fluency (stuttering). 

What causes communication disorder? 

There can be a variety of causes for communication disorders in adults e.g. neurodevelopmental (Autism), acquired neurological disorders (e.g. stroke, traumatic brain injury), due to old age (e.g. dementia), degenerative diseases (e.g. Parkinson’s, Multiple sclerosis) or chromosomal disorders (e.g. Down Syndrome). 

Ok, so what I look out for? How do I know if my loved one has a communication difficulty? 


Below are some of the signs that can be used to help determine if your loved one would benefit a referral to a Speech Pathologist: 

  • Using non-specific words as they find it difficult to come up with the exact words. For example, uses words like “stuff”, “thing”, “that one”. 
  • Names or labels things incorrectly sometimes these items may be related, for example, pen for pencil or sometimes the items may not even be from the same category e.g. hat for chair 
  • Uses made-up words, sometimes the word in sentences are not in order 
  • Switches sounds within words  
  • Slurry-drunken like speech 
  • Sound monotonous in speech, no variations in voice. 
  • Observable frustration because they cannot get their message across! Can often result in behavioural difficulties 
  • Difficulty understanding instructions, humour and jokes, takes jokes literally 
  • Cannot answer questions appropriately and or seems disinterested in the conversation 
  • Gets easily confused when lots of information is provided at a single time 
  • May or may not be aware of breakdown in communication 

When communicating with someone who has an acquired language disorder there are some important tips to remember to make communication as easy as possible:

1. Ensure you have your communication partners attention

2. Use eye contact, appropriate body language and facial expressions

3. Try to minimise distractions in the environment

4. Speak at a normal volume

5. Keep your sentences simple but don’t be patronising

6. Slow down your speech

7. Give your communication partner time to speak- do not assume you know what they are going to say

8. Try using drawings, writing and gestures- your communication partner may understand those better than spoken words

9. Give your communication partner time to speak and allow them to make mistakes without correcting them

10. Let them try things for themselves. Give them help when they ask for it.


Do you know of anyone that exhibits these symptoms? If you do, it would be ideal to refer them to a Speech Pathologist to assist with communication difficulties and feeding difficulties or visit your GP for more information.