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Communicating with someone who can't talk

People who find it hard to talk after a brain injury or stroke, or because of a progressive neurological condition, can have a combination of three disorders:

When you are communicating with someone who has difficulty talking, you will have to look for other clues, such as body language, to understand what they are trying to say. They will also be watching your body language to try to understand you.

Useful nonverbal clues

communication2Facial expressions

We show our feelings on our face. For example, the person you're communicating with may smile when you smile – they know that this means you are happy.


This can include pointing to objects you're talking about, or using your hands to mime an action, for example lifting your hand to your mouth as if you're holding a cup as you ask "Do you want a drink?"

Tone of voice

Changes in the rise and fall of our voice give clues about what we're saying. For example our voice rises at the end of a sentence if we're asking a question; if we're angry our voice is usually louder; if we're reassuring someone our voice is usually softer. We can also stress words that are important in a sentence, for example, "Do you want coffee or tea?"

Practical tips for communicating

You might also find this dictionary of sign language useful.

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Written by community speech-language therapists, Canterbury DHB. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed November 2020.


Page reference: 121515

Review key: HISCD-79694