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Young Children & Communication
Beginning communicators are individuals of
age, who are in the early stages of communication development. They are using techniques for communicating and need their partner/listener to interpret what they mean. They may be very good at communicating about the "here and now" but have difficulty talking about things that are not present.They are learning to use
(one thing that stands for another) so they communicate about more topics, and with more people.
is a Communication Profile?
A communication profile...
May also be called a Dictionary or Inventory
Documents the unique ways the person “says” things
A description of all the ways the person communicates and how other people communicate with him
Developed by the person and his team
All people who support the person should have access to a copy
Shared across settings (e.g., school, work, home)
People can note significant events and potential topics (e.g., recent trips, illnesses)
Has a working copy (separate from formal plan) that can easily be updated
Include questions and guesses to help team problem-solve (what does it mean when he ___s?)
Formally reviewed and/or updated every year during annual meeting
to Make a Communication Profile
Gather family and staff who know the person well
know the person is trying to say ___
For ideas, see Communication Brainstorming Worksheet on the
How I Can Help
Be sure to include any messages that are special or unique to the person
Sample Communication Profile:
Sample Communication Profile
Download information about and a blank copy of a Communication Profile (
Why use is a Communication Dictionary?
A communication profile helps the
Everyone knows what the person is trying to communicate and provides a consistent response
He knows what to expect
Be motivated and encouraged
Will continue engaging in communication since it works!
Learning is rewarded since his partners respond
Undocumented communication attempts can be:
Ignored, misunderstood, not recognized
Person will eventually “give up” trying to communicate, since his attempts are:
Frequently unsuccessful or unrewarding
“Learned Helplessness” or Passive
Experience more independence and success
Partners (even potential partners) are better prepared to "read" & respond to him
A communication profile helps the
Partners know how person communicates
New or less-familiar partners get to know person and her unique ways of expressing herself
Substitute staff, new teachers, etc.
Increase expectations for person to communicate across environments
Document person's progress, since new vocabulary will be added across time
Tips and Techniques to Support Communication and Learning
Take Time - Take Turns
to process and respond
Spoken language is difficult to process quickly
Especially complex adult language
(remember last time you talked to doctor/specialist?)
2-3 word phrases
Can increase length depending on person's level of understanding
Add “quiet” time to listen, understand, & respond
This helps her be more successful
Important for decision-making
Add visuals to the words to increase understanding
Use body language, gestures, objects, pictures
Helps naturally slow speed of interaction
Ensure extra time
(count to 5 or 10)
between pieces of information presented
[point to calendar]
You’re going to the doctor.
That’s in 1 week.
Use Visual Supports
Example Visual Support - task schedule for brushing teeth.
Pictures or words to reinforce or add to the spoken message
Enhance understanding (& reduce anxiety)
Warn of schedule changes
Provide information about expectations
Support independence and participation
Use these ideas to make your own Visual Supports:
Sample resources for making visual supports, including Google Images.
Table of free sites for pictures and communication boards.
Behavior & Communication
about Visual Supports (including examples).
Use Cause-Effect Activities and Items
impact the objects/people in environment
Important skill for learning & development
Knowing she can
her environment helps her understand power of
She can make things happen through communication
Actions, facial expressions, gestures, sounds, or words
about Cause-Effect, click
to download a "Sensory-Motor and Communication Screening Tool"
This tool (presented at ISAAC 2012 conference by Deb Thomas & Karen Baron) helps you recognize the person's skills
set goals for further development
Learn by repetition
Picture of dominoes falling
Experience same action over and over
For example: flicking a light switch to watch it go on/off – again and again
Gain exposure to objects with
Demonstrate impact he can have on his environment
e.g., Music only plays if
press this button
Choose fun & motivating items
She should be reinforced and rewarded for using the item
Let her know that
is the one making item work
Use a variety of items
Helps person discriminate between reactions of different buttons, symbols, & objects.
Recognize different actions produce different results
Using Assistive Technology for Cause-Effect
Easier to use
(buttons are larger, more sensitive, or brighter-colored)
Picture of switch-adapted fan
Add a cord allowing use of a switch (external button)
When press switch (plugged into item’s cord), it turns on item!
Press button again & again to watch item activate
Battery interrupters add switch cords to existing items
One example is from Enabling Devices (Click
to see catalog)
See the page on technology and i devices for information on apps that can be used to support cause and effect!
Explore Voice-Output Devices
Local stores may sell recordable products - see "AAC 101" page for more.
Devices that store & play-back recorded messages
Person can repeatedly hear (and learn to “pair”) spoken word with actions/items
Allow person to understand how
impacts his environment
to other strategies & supports
Will enhance both his understanding and his use of speech for communication
Change the device when you change words
E.g., switch the picture, add texture
Helps person realize it’s a different message
Use it as her “voice”
Record someone who sounds like
Choose same gender, similar voice / accent
Help assign meaning to specific spoken words
Understand how same message can be used in different contexts (times of day, people, settings)
(more, all done, come here)
(go for walk, sing, drive)
Messages can be
Hi, My name is ___
Want to watch with me?
Help understand how things stop or continue in-a-row
Sequences can be:
(counting, steps to getting dressed, ABCs)
Songs/ Books (
each line recorded separately)
(ready-set-go, Simon Says instructions)
Find and Use Meaningful "Symbols"
For example, picture of remote control & recorded word “TV” represent same message
Different pictures of the same thing - 4 symbol types.
TV remote = activity of watching show
Parts of objects
keys = go for ride
soft fabric of blanket = sleep
pantomime throwing = play ball
photo of Grandma = Grandma
“meow” = cat
“Grandma” = Grandma
Symbols should be very
Look exactly like (or very similar to) the object/activity they represent
Example Visual Scene Displays of the zoo.
Depend on person’s vision, motor skills, & learning/understanding
Depend on environment (partners, setting, culture)
Visual Scene Displays
Whole views, in-context
New research – may be more effective for certain people
Assessing Symbol Types
Use functional items/pictures to find out what type of symbol makes sense to the person. Use a variety of types to "represent" the same message.
Read more under "Considering AAC: What to do First." This district has posted a wonderful resource called "
Screening for Symbol Representation
" that will help your team explore different types of pictures.
You can also construct your own Functional Symbol Kit. Click
to download printable pictures, words, etc. to explore symbol types.
Teach Symbolic Communication
Goal is increasing “Conventional” signals the person uses (and understands)
to all communicative behaviors (even “non-symbolic”)
Be aware and notice
the ways the person communicates
Acknowledge to the
, NOT the form
When in doubt, OVER-estimate
“As if” principle
When we act
a behavior means something, over time it will take on that meaning
infant is hungry --> he cries --> partner feeds him
that crying results in feeding
that crying communicates “I’m hungry”
people learn that
Like saying “cookie” to pick out specific snack (instead of just “I’m hungry”)
Choose an existing behavior
Assign functional meaning to it
to help person pair (their action = this meaning)
Document so that response is same across settings, partners
new communication symbols using the above "Communication Profile"
Example: Marc taps his chest
Interpret this gesture as “please”
When Marc taps his chest, respond as if he requested “please”
Repeat across settings and partners
Begin to wait until Marc gestures before responding
"Sabotage" the Environment
Requires the person to communicate more
Gives him more practice with successful interactions
Set a timer to turn off TV after a few minutes (knowing that person will want to watch more)
Wait (and watch) for person to use a symbol to continue the activity
Reach toward remote, Look at picture of remote, OR Press button to play recorded “more” message
Offer Options & Opportunities for Choice-Making
Hold up 2 Symbols (objects, pictures, voice-output devices, etc)
Favorite cookie vs. non-favorite carrot stick
Person receives whichever one she selects
Even if non-preferred
Reinforces her ability to choose
If she selects an item she does not truly want
Give it to her for a brief (20-30 second) period
Remove it and offer her 2 options again
This is NOT a punishment
Start with 1-3 familiar symbols or messages
Wait until person understands & reliably makes choices from these options
Slowly add more vocabulary/options
Still only offer 2-3 at a time
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