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Simple Descriptions of Communication Difficulties

My gift to you!

So, you want to be able to quickly describe a person’s communication difficulty and to do this in a way that is readily understood by others? Well, in order to help you, here’s a little gift:

coathanger image 450

A coat hanger?

Yes…it’s a metaphor for having something to hang your ideas on! We’ll be using a communication model known as The Communication Chain as a coat hanger for hanging your ideas about the nature of the communication difficulties of some of the people you work with.

The Communication Chain

the communication chain LD image

Download a copy of this diagram here

This model has been described elsewhere (see Communication Model) and you’ll need to understand this before you can carry out the exercise outlined in the following section.

Describing communication difficulties

The Communication Chain model can be used to provide plausible 3-part descriptions of conditions that are known to adversely affect communication.

As an example let’s consider a word finding difficulty. This is a difficulty retrieving vocabulary items from one’s internalized dictionary. For example, a person may be trying to tell you that they cannot find their (eye) glasses but struggle for the correct word, perhaps calling them windows, telescopes, microscopes, or similar. Consequently, this adversely affects their ability to form meaningful utterances. Using The Communication Chain model, a word finding difficulty can be thought of as a communication difficulty exhibited when the individual is acting as an Agent, with the disruption affecting the Linguistic Level and, specifically, disrupting the ability to select appropriate words. So, we have a 3-part description. Word finding difficulty is apparent when:

  1. the individual is acting as an AGENT
  2. with disruption at the LINGUISTIC LEVEL
  3. and specifically with SELECTING APPROPRIATE WORDS

Of course, this is just a shorthand notation for talking about the communication presentation of particular individuals but the approach does provide a useful framework for thinking through how and when a person’s communication attempts may be disrupted.

Exercise in providing 3-part descriptions


Below are some descriptions of conditions that may result in a communication difficulty. Read through the descriptions and provide a 3-part description for each one, as we did for the word finding difficulty example, i.e.

Word finding difficulty description


Dyspraxia is a difficulty with voluntarily moving mouth parts such as the tongue, lips and jaw in order to produce speech. The individual typically knows what they want to say but they have difficulty making and coordinating the movements to say words clearly. However, there is no damage to nerves or muscles. Dyspraxia is mainly a difficulty with making and coordinating muscle movements.


Automatic, uncontrollable repetition of vocalizations, words or phrases made by another, e.g. a person is asked “Do you want a drink?” and the person echoes back “Do you want a drink?” Occurs in certain developmental disabilities, such as autism, Asperger syndrome, and Tourette syndrome.


Enlargement (hypertrophy) of the tongue. Can occur in Down’s Syndrome.

Autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder)

A complex neurological developmental disability with a characteristic set of symptoms. There is a triad of impairments, including impairment of social interaction, communication and the range and scope of interests and activities.

Cleft Palate

An orofacial birth defect caused by abnormal facial development in utero. Incomplete fusion of the bones and tissues of a baby’s upper jaw, nose, and mouth during weeks 6-10 of pregnancy can result in a fissure (cleft) of the lip and/or palate.


Dysarthria is an impairment in nerves (lesions) which disrupt the ability to transmit signals from the brain to the muscles of the mouth, tongue, lips, vocal folds (vocal cords) and the muscles of breathing. The consequence of this is that there will be difficulty in moving these structures.

Comprehension disorder

Difficulty understanding vocabulary, directions, concepts and questions. In sum, difficulty unraveling and decoding words into meaningful concepts. Often associated with poor attention, memory and an inability to sustain concentration.

Suggested answers

How did you get on? You may well have struggled to unambiguously assign some of the labels, most likely because you don’t have enough information about a particular condition or client. This is frequently the case when we attempt to squeeze a description of a complex process into just a handful of categories (agent/recipient – level – specifics). Having said this, here are my suggested descriptors:

Answers to 3-part descriptions exercise

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