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Symbol charts

Symbol charts

Please note: The below text is from our iBook "Getting Started with Augmented & Alternative Communication (AAC): Using low tech symbol based systems with children" which you can download here. The links on the right hand side of this page will take you to a range of symbolised resources that you are welcome to use for free.

Symbols are special pictures that are used to represent concepts - e.g. a drawing of a person drinking out of a cup is used to represent the concept of having a drink.  Symbols are used both to support understanding and to help someone express themselves.

Getting started with symbol charts can feel daunting!  We have designed some templates (see sections on the right) to make the first steps feel a little bit easier.  Once you have got going, you will soon want to adapt these charts and make your own.

Getting started with low tech AAC is all about finding a way of bringing AAC into daily activities that are relevant for you and your family.  It’s about finding communication opportunities that are motivating and fun.

AAC charts are one small step on the journey towards developing a full communication system based around symbols.

Choosing which charts to make

The communication charts shown below are available in three different symbols sets - PCS (Picture Communication Symbols), Symbolstix and Widgit and Symbolstix.   No one symbol set is ‘better’ than another, your choice of symbol set is probably best based on finding out what symbols (if any) are being used in your child’s environment and trying to use the same.  Similarly, if your child is using symbols within a communication app, communication aid, or some sort of recording software, it is helpful to choose the same symbols if possible.

Try to choose a chart that feels a step ahead of where you think your child is at.  This will enable you to demonstrate the next steps as you use the chart.  It’s what we do all the time with speaking children – we repeat back what they say, adding an extra word.  We are all natural language teachers!  If you feel that there are too many symbols on a chart at first, you can always blank off a few symbols and then gradually reveal them when you feel that is appropriate.

Making the charts

The example charts are designed to be accessed by pointing to the symbols.  However, you could cut the symbols out and arrange them on an E-tran frame for eye pointing communicators.  

You can see an example of symbols being selected on an E-tran frame here.

You could also scan through the symbols for those using listener mediated scanning, although make sure you are consistent in the order in which you offer the symbols.  Click here for an example of listener mediated scanning.

On a practical note, if you have access to a laminator, you may want to laminate the charts to protect them.  If you do this, where possible use matt laminator pouches as the glossy ones are rather prone to reflecting overhead lighting, which can make the symbols difficult to see.

Once you’ve all gained confidence in using a few of these example charts, the next step will be to begin to put together a communication book containing a wide range of core and topic vocabulary.  For this you will need specialist software, although you may find that your child’s speech and language therapist and / or school has this and can help.

Using the charts

The charts are there to be used by you.  If the child begins to join in, that’s great, but don’t force them to use the symbols.  They need to become really familiar with the symbols and how to use them.  That can only happen by you using them yourself as you talk to your child.  You can see an example of this in action here.

You really are the key to getting started with AAC.  Your skill at pointing to the symbols while talking to and playing with your child is what will get AAC going.