Communication for a young person with a learning disability

We can offer advice and support with communication, a common difficulty raised by children and young people with learning disabilities and often a contributory factor to challenging behaviour.

Learning Disability Nursing provides advice and support to children, young people with learning disabilities, their parents/carers and the healthcare and education professionals they rely on.

Many children and young people with learning disabilities have difficulty with communication. Whether those difficulties manifest themselves as trouble understanding what others are saying or difficulty in the child or young person expressing themselves, improving communication will help them to be as independent as possible and can reduce or prevent challenging behaviour.

How can we help?

We can provide support to help your child or young person to understand the world around them and help them to communicate effectively. We use specialist techniques to improve communication skills including aids like:

  • Objects of reference
  • Visual timetables
  • Social stories
  • PECS – Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a form of augmentative and alternative communication that is typically used as an aid for children with autism
  • Total Communication – Total Communication (TC) is an approach to deaf education that aims to make use of a number of modes of communication such as signed, oral, auditory, written and visual aids, depending on the particular needs and abilities of the child

Guidance and helpful information

The mechanics of support around communication and difficulties with speech and language should be overseen by a specialist Speech and Language Therapist. The Learning Disabilities team will work alongside other specialists when additional support may be required, such as for young people with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

Toolkits and Strategies

The following toolkits are available to support you to record behaviours, sleep patterns and other information which will be useful in assessing what the support a child or young person requires:

  • Behavioural pack >

    This toolkit includes basic information and advice on behaviour. The pack will allow you to record information which is useful during a clinic assessment to allow the clinician to assess the help needed.

  • Sleep hygiene information and sleep diaries >

    This includes sleep hygiene information sheets to give you basic advice for promoting healthy sleep patterns. We only support families with severe sleep problems but this information is useful for all families and children.  The sheets here allow you to record information on sleep patterns and approaches which will be useful for the clinican when you attend an appointment with us. 

  • Independence pack >

    This pack includes a basic explanation of techniques which may be useful for a family and help to reduce anxiety. 

What happens next?

All requests for service are prioritised according to need and urgency, based on the information provided to us when the request is made. The urgency is defined by the service in discussion with the person who made the request for service and the child or young person’s family.

We aim to see all children and young people within 18 weeks of accepting the request for service. We will try, wherever possible, to start the assessment process prior to the first clinic appointment by asking parents/carer(s) or the child or young person to begin to record behaviours, sleep patterns and feelings where this is appropriate. This information will help inform our assessment.

Self referral

You can now self-refer your child into this service. For more information please view this guide on how to self refer.

For details of what the service supports and what supporting documentation you require for your referral, please view the request criteria page.

Who you might see

Learning disability nurses support people with learning disabilities and their families and carers. We help children and young people with learning disabilities to maintain their health and wellbeing and to live their lives as fully and independently as possible by providing advice and support. We also support healthcare and education professionals as part of our service.

We have three teams covering Devon from bases in the North, South and East.

What is the process?

Location of Centres

We will arrange to see you at a location convenient to you or near to your home, which may or may not be listed below. You should not visit the locations below unless we have sent you an appointment and requested that you do. If you need help please contact us using the number on this page.


Children and Family Health Devon
Single Point of Access Team
1a Capital Court
Bittern Road
Sowton Industrial Estate
Exeter EX2 7FW


t: 0330 024 5321