Communication in young people with intellectual impairments: the influence of partnership

Walton, Anne P. (2002). Communication in young people with intellectual impairments: the influence of partnership. PhD thesis The Open University.



Adults with intellectual impairments experience frequent communication breakdown in their everyday interactions. This can result from impairment of the linguistic skills required for effective communication and/or difficulties dealing with non-verbal information. Problems also exist, however, in the way that some non-impaired speakers, such as care providers, approach these communicative episodes. This thesis investigates communication in young adults with intellectual impairments with three different communication partners. These were a care provider, a student and a peer with intellectual impairments. Student partners were previously unknown to the main participants and not experienced in communicating with people with intellectual impairments. Communication structure and process are investigated according to the number of words and turns used to complete a co-operative problem-solving task and the types of conversational acts used by speakers and listeners. Non-verbal communication is investigated through the use of one non-verbal signal, gaze, during the task dialogues. An interactionist approach is taken to communication, where outcome or success is viewed as a product of the collaborative efforts of speakers and listeners. Communication is seen as multi-modal and involving the exchange of information via the verbal and non-verbal channels. The results show that when both parties were intellectually impaired performance was poorest. More surprisingly, dyads including a student partner communicated more effectively and efficiently than where the partner was a carer. One reason for this may be that carers used more complex, open questions to introduce new information into the task, and these were distracting rather than useful. Overusing open questions may be problematic for this population and less effective at establishing shared understanding than where listeners check their own interpretation of previous messages, a strategy preferred by student partners. Non-verbal signals can help to ease constraints on communication by providing interlocutors with feedback information on the levels of mutual understanding.

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