Similar to the common difficulties experienced with attention and memory, many people with intellectual disability have considerable difficulties in sequencing events and understanding the relationship between particular actions and their consequences. This can be particularly challenging when there are multiple subjects and events in the story.
When people with intellectual disability tell their story, it can often seem out of order or illogical. However, it is important to let the client tell their story in their own way, in their own time, in full, and without interruption. This may require counsellors to rethink their assumptions about their client’s aims in telling their story. Telling a chronological, well-structured story may not be a high priority, and it is not necessary that the story is told in this way. People with intellectual disability often use their own language structures and their own methods of communicating events or experiences, and this may differ greatly between people. For example, some people have great difficulty staying in chronological sequence when they tell their story, while others may feel great discomfort in jumping out of sequence or being interrupted.
Counsellors have a responsibility to adapt their communication and thinking about the client’s story to the individual client, and not expect the client to conform to a standard mode of storytelling. Counsellors working with people with intellectual disability need to listen patiently as the person tells their story, sometimes over a number of sessions, and then take what they have heard and attempt to make sense of it as a whole. Patience and time to allow the person to be heard completely are crucial.