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How are Symbols used?
In this activity we will cover
• How symbols are used on AAC devices and systems
• Settings where AAC and symbols are used
• Activities in which AAC can be used
• Issues to consider in choosing an AAC system or
• Planning for progression
Language and Communication
• Can you remember the range of functions that we
identified in Unit 1 as being things that language
and communication allow us to do
• Write as many as you can remember before looking
at the next slide to refresh your memory
How many did you remember?
Communication and language skills allow a person to…
• Initiate, maintain, and terminate conversations
• Establish/maintain relationships
• Give information
• Ask/Answer questions
• Describe events
• Solve problems
• Direct others
• Express feelings
• Tell Stories
• Function with greater independence
Getting started with AAC
Watch the video below and make notes on the examples given to help us get
started with engaging children with AAC
Effective use of AAC is based upon a number of factors
The following points are important to consider when getting started with AAC devices
• Don’t aim too low
• Provide access to both high and low tech solutions
• Use a well-designed validated vocabulary
• Provide appropriate access to the device or system
• Have the device available at all times
• Use Aided Language Stimulation
• Provide specific vocabulary instruction
• Teach how to describe words that are not on the device
• Create communication opportunities in many settings
• Allow exploration of language and communication
• Work towards literacy and language
• Respect multi-model communication
Don’t worry if you don’t yet know all these approaches – we will be covering them
through the course
Think about where
you are starting out
from with an AAC
the child you are
stages and mastered
When you reach a
point where you can
say “No” it is a good
starting point for
Starting out in learning to use an AAC device or system
Watch the video below. Think about how you would use this approach in
introducing a device or system to a child
Lets start with Simple Communication
The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is an example of low
tech communication. It uses printed cards and boards to facilitate
communication and interaction
The Picture Exchange
or PECS, allows people with
little or no communication
abilities to communicate using
pictures. People using PECS are
taught to approach another
person and give them a picture
of a desired item in exchange
for that item.
Simple Communication Boards
Simple communication boards are collections of
symbols organised in a logical order that an AAC user
can engage with to communicate.
Some are printed and can be used on a table or in a
Others are added to an electronic device to allow
symbol choices to be spoken out
Communication system often link together a series of
boards to allow for a wide vocabulary
Example of a simple communication board
Here is an example of
a simple board for
use in a hospital to
when a patient is
unable to speak
Accessing Low Tech communication systems
Using a finger with a book Using your eyes with an etran frame
From Low tech to High Tech
Many children benefit from a more high tech
These can use different technologies which can be
very simple to set up and use, or which can need a
much greater level of knowledge and expertise.
What do you need to think about as you think about
offering a device to an AAC user?
Some questions about the child to consider
What are the current communication skills that you can
How would you describe the child’s thinking abilities. At a
fundamental level do they understand cause and effect
Are we certain of the child’s vision and hearing do we know
for sure what they can see and hear?
What level of physical ability does the child have, do they
have the means to point to a symbol from a selection, or
have a reliable form of access to technology?
Are there any behavioral issues to bear in mind? Is a child
likely to throw or damage a device if it is left unsecured?
Think about the child’s understanding
of language or comprehension
Can you observe the child
demonstrating that they understand
• Follow directions
• Identify objects or people when
• Match objects or photos together
• Name or label objects when
• Imitate tasks
• Sequence tasks
• Answer targeted questions
Think about the implications for communication if they cannot demonstrate any of
Think about the child’s ability to use language to
express themselves. To share and relay their thoughts
Can you observe examples
where the child demonstrates
that they can
• Express their wants, needs
• Direct tasks
• Describe or comment on
what they see or
• Engage in social routines
including turn taking games
• Ask Questions
Consider the implications for vocabulary and complexity of sentences if a child
cannot demonstrate the ability to undertake any of these.
Think about some factors related to the setting
or context of communication
• Is the physical environment conducive to AAC and
Communication, is it distracting or overwhelming for
• Are there communication partners available who
understand and are confident to interact with the child
through their system or device?
• Do we know how the child and partners will be trained
to use the device or system effectively?
• Do we know how any device or system will be paid for
• Does the child or family have any personal preferences
we should take into account?
Choosing a Device -Some things to think about
What output is needed?
Does the device need to speak out, produce text, show symbols etc
How complex is the child’s communication going to be?
Is it just emerging and is it context dependent or independent
How will the child access and use the device or system?
Switches, touchscreens, eyegaze are all popular methods to control
the device for communication
• How will this integrate with other AT needs?
Does the child use other technology that we should take account of.
This could include wheelchairs, environmental control systems or toys
Different forms of technology might be used at different times depending on
context and setting.
For instance an electronic aid might not be allowed in a cinema or on a flight, but a
communication board would be acceptable
At other times communication systems integrate, for instance a child might
use a communication board to request their device if it is not currently
available. For instance when they first wake up.
• Express their needs and wants
• Exchange Information
• Facilitate Social Closeness
• Enable Social Etiquette
But communication activities don’t need to be
Play, games and having fun are key motivators for
communication and interaction
We can recognize many of these in the ways in
which parents intercat with their children
There are four main functions of communication from an early stage.
We want to support the child to
Plan for communication progression by thinking
about levels of capability
Emerging Communicators. These are Pre-symbolic communicators who
may display reflexive/reactive behaviour (laughing, crying) interpreted as
communicative, and who exhibit intentional goal-directed behaviour or
exhibit intentional communicative behaviour.
Beginning Symbolic Communicators might be using some symbols one at a
time and have not started combining them together.
They might use (or have tried) picture or object-based communications
strategies, or a single or double-message speech generating device
Intermediate Symbolic Communicators may be using a number of symbols
and may be combining these having close to 50 symbols in their repertoire
in a simple syntax or word order, such as I want.... I like... I don’t like... I
Advanced Symbol communicators who are competent with a widening
and increasingly complex vocabulary and ease of communication
Examples of AAC user stories
Examples of AAC play activities
Smartbox Training at
Symbols are used in all sorts of activities
They can be used functionally to communicate our
needs and wants, and to express our thoughts.
But they can also be the basis of play, fun and games
an important means of learning to interact with
those around us
Key learning points
• Planning for progression is important in working
• Finding a good starting point needs consideration
of different factors
• Both low and high tech systems are important
• We can develop our use of AAC in both formal
settings and in games and play