Mental Health, Autism & Learning Disabilities in the Criminal Courts

Information for magistrates, district judges and court staff

Home Contents Search

a. What are communication difficulties?

Royal College Of Speech And Language Therapists Logo


Thanks to the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists for writing this section.

Communication difficulties are sometimes referred to as speech, language and communication needs or communication disabilities. These terms describe people who have difficulty with one or more aspect of communication. There are a wide range of difficulties and corresponding needs that may be short-term or may remain with the person throughout their childhood and adult life.

Speech, language and communication needs can occur from childhood as primary difficulties, such as specific language impairment or a stammer; or as secondary difficulties due to conditions such as learning disability, autism, hearing impairment and certain mental health conditions. Speech, language and communication needs can also be acquired due, for example, to stroke and dementia.

Some people with psychosis have particular communication difficulties. This is often because of ‘disordered thinking’. People with disordered thinking find it hard to keep a logical order to their ideas. Their thoughts and speech may be jumbled and disconnected. The person may appear to talk nonsense, make up words or replace words with sounds or rhymes.

Some medications for psychosis can cause problems with communication. Antipsychotics can cause persistent abnormal movement of the jaw, lips and tongue and can cause slurred speech.

© Prison Reform Trust and Rethink Mental Illness. All rights reserved.