"Much of the magic of AAC lies in the vast array of symbols
and signals, other than those used in speech, that people can employ to send messages.
Especially for individuals who cannot read or write, the ability to represent
messages and concepts in alternative ways is central to communication."
(Beukelman & Mirenda, 1998, p. 40)
A variety of symbols can be used
to represent the messages a student needs to communicate. "Symbols"
refer to something that "stands for something else". The actual "symbol"
used can be anything from real objects to photos to line drawings to other forms
of picture symbols.
Considerations when selecting a symbol system include:
- Iconicity. This refers to how closely the symbol represents the item/message
it depicts. For example, using a potato chip bag to represent "potato chips"
is a much closer association than the written word "potato chip".
In general, symbols with a more concrete representation will be easier for
students to learn.
For students who are not yet reading - look closely
at the picture without the text. Many of us make the mistake of thinking that
"pictures are easy" because we can read the associated word and neglect
to really look at the picture.
- Ability to replicate the symbol.
Can the symbol be easily reproduced if the original is lost or the communication
board needs to be rearranged or expanded? This factor needs to be taken into account
in particular when using photographs. What happens if the negative is lost once
the student is trained to the picture meaning? This is also a consideration if
pictures are to be hand-drawn.
- Is the symbol set available
commercially? Many professionals use the Boardmaker software program from
Mayer-Johnson company. One of the advantages of this program is that communication
boards can be created relatively quickly and easily. In addition, replication
of boards and symbols is not a significant concern.
available symbol sets can be adopted district-wide as the standard. Thus,
students transitioning within a district will continue to have exposure to the
same communication symbols.
- Changing symbol sets is like changing
languages. How would you feel if suddenly someone told you you could
no longer speak English, you must now learn Spanish?