To initiate repair or not? Coping with difficulties in the talk of adults with intellectual disabilities

Charles Antaki, Deborah Chinn, Chris Walton, W M L Finlay, Joe Sempik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How do health and social care professionals deal with undecipherable talk produced by adults with intellectual disabilities (ID)? Some of their practices are familiar from the other-initiated repair canon. But some practices seem designed for, or at least responsive to, the needs of the institutional task at hand, rather than those of difficult-to-understand conversational partners. One such practice is to reduce the likelihood of the person with ID issuing any but the least repair-likely utterances, or indeed having to speak at all. If they do produce a repairable turn, then, as foreshadowed by earlier work on conversations with people with aphasia, their interlocutors may overlook its deficiencies, respond only minimally, simply pass up taking a turn, or deal with it discreetly with an embedded repair. When the interlocutor does call for a repair, they will tend to offer candidate understandings built from comparatively flimsy evidence in the ID speaker's utterance. Open-class repair initiators are reserved for utterances with the least evidence to go on, and the greatest projection of a response from the interlocutor. We reflect on what this tells us about the dilemma facing those who support people with intellectual disabilities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)954-976
Number of pages23
JournalClinical Linguistics and Phonetics
Issue number10-11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020


  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Aphasia
  • Communication
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability


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