Backup communication methods

Anonymous said to :

I find it very difficult to communicate myself verbally sometimes, to the point where I get frustrated and actually cry. It’s like, I can’t find the right words quick enough and it all comes out in jumbles. How can I improve my social skills when it comes to speaking?

realsocialskills said:

I think I’m going to write a few posts about this, because there are a lot of things that can help. But in this post, I’m going to talk about backup methods of communication:


For many people for whom speech is unreliable, having another method of communication to fall back on is gamechanging:

  • Speech isn’t the most important thing
  • Knowing that you will be able to communicate is the important thing
  • If fear and frustration is a reason that speech becomes difficult for you, knowing that you will definitely be able to communicate might in itself improve your ability to speak

Having a backup method doesn’t mean you have to use it all the time:

  • You might get stuck at one point in a conversation, type a bit, then resume speaking

Some possible backups:


Pen and paper:

  • If handwriting is reliable for you, it might help to carry around a pen and paper
  • That can allow you to write instead of speaking
  • Or to write a few words to unstick yourself
  • The advantages of this is that it’s cheap, low-tech, and readily available
  • (And most people have used paper to pass notes in a situation where they didn’t want to speak, eg: in a class, so it might not even look that odd)
  • You can also use this to draw diagrams or drawings illustrating a point. (even if it’s not a point that’s usually illustrated that way.) Having a non-words-based way of explaining things can help a lot.

An iPad (even without any special apps):

  • If you have an iPad, it might be worth making a point of carrying it with you all the time
  • You can take an iPad out relatively quickly and type on it just in the Notes app
  • (I do this)
  • You can even do text-to-speech this way. If you go to the general settings, then accessibility options, you can turn on text to speech. There are voices for a lot of languages; not just English.

You can also use iPads, paper, and computers as a stealth form of communication support:

  • If you pretend you’re taking notes, people generally won’t question it
  • You can then type out many of your responses before you say them
  • That can separate the process of figuring out what to say from the physical act of saying it
  • That can make speech far more possible for some people
  • (I do this more or less constantly in classes, seminars, discussion groups and certain kinds of meetings).

An iPad with decided communication apps:

  • There are a lot of dedicated communication apps for iPads (most of the good ones are expensive).
  • If part of your problem is that you lose words or forget the kinds of things that it’s possible to say, a communication app might help
  • Proloquo2Go has a lot of flexibility and good symbol support. If you have trouble with words and need symbols to remind you, it might be  a good option. 
  • You can make dedicated pages for situation in which you tend to have trouble communicating.
  • Making the pages also might in itself help you to map out things you can say in various situations, even if you aren’t able to use them directly.
  • Speak4Yourself isn’t very flexible at all, but it has icons arranged in a way that’s well thought-out. It’s designed to work with muscle memory, having the words in the same place all the time so that your hands remember where you are. If you sometimes need help even with simple words and don’t need specialized pages, it might be a very cognitively user-friendly option.
  • Proloquo4Text is a text-based AAC app. It can store phrases in categories to access quickly, and has very high-quality word prediction. You can also make the display text very large if you’d rather show your screen than use a computer voice.

tl;dr If you have trouble with speech and get overloaded, it’s a good idea to have a backup communication method. Scroll up for some concrete suggestions.


Anyone else want to weigh in? What helps you when you get overwhelmed and can’t find the words?