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Find out an individual’s communication and language needs, wishes and preferences and demonstrate communication methods that meet them


This page is designed to answer the following questions:

NOTE: This page has been quality assured for 2023 as per our Quality Assurance policy.

In the health and care sector, you will work with many individuals with very different and sometimes very complex communication requirements. Communicating with them in a way that respects their needs, beliefs, and preferences helps to build meaningful relationships and supports working with person-centred values.


How to find out an individual’s communication and language needs, wishes and preferences


It is important that you can identify the best ways to communicate with people on an individual-by-individual basis. Some of the ways that you find out how best to communicate with someone are:

  • Trial and error – sometimes, the best way to establish the communication and language needs of an individual (especially if you do not know them) is to dive straight in and attempt to converse with them. Start off by chatting with them and asking them how they prefer to communicate. If you are not getting a response, try other methods, such as gestures, pictures or writing, until you find what works best.
  • Observation – by watching others communicate with an individual, you will be able to see what works well and apply it to your own practice. Also, observing an individual whilst communicating with them can give visual clues about their interest and understanding.
  • Speaking to their family/friends – the family, friends and other people that have known the individual for a long time will have a lot of knowledge and experience about how best to converse with them. By speaking to these people, you can glean a lot of information that can prepare you.
  • Reading their care plan – an individual’s care plan should describe their communication needs, wishes and preferences in detail. You can use this information to ensure that you communicate with them in the best possible way.
  • Speaking to other professionals – other professionals that have previously worked with an individual may be able to direct you on what communication methods work well and which don’t. Professionals can include the individual’s psychologist, occupational therapist, speech and language therapist, nurse, social worker, advocate and tutor, as well as other care workers.

How to demonstrate communication methods

From the information you have learned about how an individual communicates, you will be prepared to communicate with them effectively and will be able to demonstrate a range of communication methods and techniques.


Some communication methods you may use are:

  • Verbal – speaking and listening
  • Written – reading and writing
  • Gestures and signs – including British Sign Language (BSL) and Makaton
  • Visual aids – cue cards, drawing pictures, pointing at objects

And some techniques you use may include:

  • Speaking slowly and being patient to ensure the individual has time to process the information
  • Keeping sentences short (e.g. no more than two keywords)
  • Using technology such as a text-to-speech synthesizer
  • Using the services of a translator/interpreter

Eye contact is particularly important, so you may need to adjust your position to come down to the level of a seated individual. Understanding an individual’s personal visual cues is also beneficial. For example, an individual with dementia who repeatedly says they want to go home over and over may be trying to communicate that they need to use the toilet.

The table below identifies three ways of finding out the communication and language needs of an individual, along with how effective it is at establishing the needs of the individual.

MethodHow effective is it?
Speak to/Observe the IndividualIn many cases, this is one of the most effective ways to communicate with an individual. By striking up a conversation with an individual, you can usually assess whether they can use the English language to communicate and how accomplished they are. That is not to say that this always works – it does have limitations. An individual may choose not to converse with you, in which case you may not be able to ascertain if they cannot use verbal language or are choosing not to use it. If an individual does choose to talk to you, you will be able to assess how comfortable they are with this method of communication and adjust your own language accordingly. If an individual is non-verbal, you may still be able to find some way of communicating with them, perhaps by using signs, body language or pictorial aids.
Read their Care PlanAll Care Plans should have a section on communication, which describes an individual’s preferred communication methods. This is a very effective method of finding out the communication and language requirements of an individual. The Care Plan will have been written following consultation with multiple people involved in the individual’s life; this includes the individual themselves, their support staff, their family/relations/friends and the multi-disciplinary team.
Speak to the Individual’s Friends/Family/RelationsFamily and friends are often the closest people to an individual, and have known them for the longest period of time. Consequently, they will understand their communication needs more than anybody else and be able to provide useful pointers on how to communicate effectively with them.
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