When we think of disabilities, we usually think of someone limited in their ability to walk, think or who has a sensory limitation. Rarely do people think of disabilities that impact speech. There are a wide range of conditions that may limit or impact a person’s ability to speak.
A person may have difficulty forming words due to a neurological disorder, a TBI, an injury or any number of other conditions. People may also have communication disorders where they have difficulty understanding or putting thoughts into words. These conditions can vary widely. In some cases speech may be the person’s only limitation, in other cases they may have additional limitations.
Dog trainers supporting people with disabilities who train their own dogs for service work, or who are working with pet owners may find themselves working with a person who has a disability that impacts their speech or communication.
When communicating with someone who has a speech impairment or communication disorder:
- Do not finish the person’s sentences for them. Wait for the person to finish.
- Repeat to make sure you understood.
- Talk to adults like they are adults.
- Facilitate communication if needed by writing on a pad or texting.
Possible Training Modifications:
Everyone is different, there is no “one size fits all” with modifications for any limitation or disability.
- Use hand signals instead of verbal cues.
- Use a whistle for a recall.
- Use a sound like clapping or patting on your leg as an attention cue in lieu of verbal cue if needed.
- Mark and reward the dog for frequently checking in with his/her own. For example, looking at the owner when seeing another dog on a walk.
- Offer the opportunity for emailed questions or asking questions individually (not in front of a group) in case the student is not comfortable asking questions in front of others or written communication is easier.
While most of the time my speech sounds pretty normal, there are times when my speech sounds different. I have a neurological condition called generalized dystonia including spasmodic dysphonia. Diane Rehm and Robert F. Kennedy are two famous people who also had this disorder.