Supporting someone with communication and swallowing difficulties

This page has advice on how to support someone with:

Communication Difficulties

You can help someone with communication difficulties by:

  • speaking in short, simple sentences
  • allowing the person extra time to process what you have said and think of their response
  • providing information in short chunks
  • giving directions in small steps
  • avoiding changing topics abruptly
  • using visuals e.g. maps, calendars, photographs, pictures
  • writing down instructions or key words
  • using gestures and facial expressions 
  • only asking one question at a time
  • phrasing questions so that only a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer is required
  • reducing distractions e.g. turn off the TV or move to a quiet room
  • facing the person so that they can see you when you are talking
  • checking with the person to make sure they have understood

Voice problems

There are a number of different things you can do to help protect your voice and reduce further damage. This is called vocal hygiene.

You can help someone with voice problems by:

  • Be aware of your breathing: use an upright posture and keep your head straight. Your chest and shoulders should not move when you breathe in. Breathing this way should not cause tension.
  • Drink plenty of water: your vocal tract needs moisture to work well.
  • Avoid smoking and second hand smoke as it can cause dryness, redness and swelling of your vocal cords.
  • Limit your caffeine and alcohol intake as they can also dry out your vocal cords. 
  • Minimise excessive coughing and throat clearing: instead take a sip of water or swallow hard.
  • Avoid speaking in noisy situations and ‘pushing’ your voice: try to use your voice in a relaxed, easy way.
  • Adapt your environment: offices may lack proper moisture in the air, consider a humidifier and remove air pollutants e.g. dust, chalk etc.
  • Voice rest: if your voice feels tired or strained, then rest it.
  • Monitor stress levels: stress increases muscle tension. Try to get plenty of rest, maintain a healthy diet and incorporate some form of relaxation into your lifestyle.
  • Manage reflux: discuss management with your GP, avoid trigger foods (e.g. fatty foods, caffeine, spicy foods), eat smaller meals and avoiding lying down after eating.


You can support someone with a stammer by:

  • avoiding saying things like “Slow down,” “Take a breath,” or “Relax.” Such simplistic advice is not helpful.
  • focusing on what the person is saying and not how they say it.
  • maintaining natural eye contact and wait until the person is finished speaking.
  • avoiding finishing their sentences or filling in words.
  • speaking in an unhurried way, but not so slowly as to sound unnatural. This promotes good communication with everyone.

Swallowing difficulties

You can help manage your swallowing difficulties by:

  • sitting upright when eating or drinking
  • eating and drinking when you are awake and alert
  • reducing distractions 
  • slowing down and concentrating when eating/drinking 
  • not talking when eating/drinking
  • taking small bites of food and small sips of fluids
  • chewing your food well
  • taking small sips of your drink after 2 to 3 mouthfuls to help clear any residue in your throat
  • making sure you have swallowed your food or drink before taking more
  • remaining seated upright for 30 minutes after meals