Text only

Communication Forum Scotland

You are here: Communication Forum Scotland | Talk for Scotland toolkit | Communication support needs

Communication support needsCommunication support needs


Human communication is the effective exchange of information between two or more people.

Communication involves two processes:

Messages in and out

  • Getting messages in: understanding
  • Getting messages out: expression

Our definition of a communication support need is any individual who requires support with one or more of the following:

  • understanding
  • expressing themselves
  • interacting with others.

Who has communication support needs?

There are diverse reasons for people requiring communication support.

Some are now well recognised. For example members of linguistic minority communities such as British Sign Language users, and those for whom English is an additional language, may require interpreting and translation services.

Others remain less understood. A communication disability can be a hidden disability. This lack of recognition can be a barrier to effective participation.

Audio Audio quote: Sheila

Lack of understanding can result in people's behaviour being misunderstood. A person may be described as 'challenging'. But their behaviour may be a result of an unmet communication support need.

More information  The impact of unrecognised communication support needs

Move to the next issue Try the communication disability quiz

Important fact to remember

I may have difficulty expressing myself (getting a message out).
This does not always mean I have difficulty with understanding (getting messages in).

I may be able to express myself (get a message out).
This does not always mean I can understand (get messages in).

Ways of getting messages in and out

We use a limited number of methods both to understand and to express ourselves. We use these methods in combination. They range from the simple to the complex.

Simple - Complex


Using an object to express your views

For example: throwing an egg during a demonstration



Using verbal and written language to express your views

For example: presenting a consultation document at a public meeting

The most complex way to communicate is using language, both verbal and written.  Many people take this for granted. 

Inclusive communication makes use of the broadest range of methods to help people to understand and express themselves. 

More information  Inclusive communication: using a range of methods to help people get messages in and out

Section summary

Word document
Communication support needs (MS Word)

PDF document
Communication support needs (Adobe PDF)