“Promoting Symbol

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Promoting Positive Communication

How to get the most out of Communicating with Symbols

Ever wondered how to help your child learn to use symbols, or wonder what you can do to continue the work done in Therapy when you get home? Here is a short simple guide to practical ways in which you can give your child opportunities to learn to use symbols to meaningfully communicate with you, other family members and friends. Before using a high tech Alternative and Augmentative Communication System (AAC) children often require intensive input to allow them to learn the basics of communicating.

Teach communication skills during real-life activities

The best teaching occur during real-life, meaningful activities that encourage the use of communication symbols. Some examples of meaningful activities include: playing games, choosing meals, preparing food, bed time routines, dressing, shopping, etc. These types of activities are especially effective in teaching communication skills because they occur naturally, within natural contexts and have naturally reinforcing outcomes. They also allow a child to see the benefits of communication and receive feedback much more naturally.

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Review vocabulary prior to activities

Prior to engaging in a new activity with your child, review vocabulary that will be used during the activity on the communication board or device.

Point to each symbol while you talk about the symbols' meanings. Don't expect your child to understand all of the symbols right away. Also remember that a child does not need a symbol for every , all he/she needs to do is find a symbol that represents a or a phrase. By reviewing the symbols' meanings ahead of time, you are preparing your child to better understand the vocabulary available to him. However, your child may not learn to effectively use the symbols for communication until he/she is engaged in the activity itself.

Model how to use the symbols

Model the use of communication symbols during meaningful activities. Modeling or showing how to use the symbols is a great teaching tool. Show your child how you would use symbols to communicate. For example, have a family member (maybe even your child who is working to improve communication skills) give you your favorite food after you point to the corresponding symbol(s) and verbally express your request. In this scenario, your child sees you using the board and hears the you are saying. When you model the use of the communication board it not only helps to teach your child the appropriate way to use the board, but it also shows him it is okay to communicate using AAC. Make Communication a Family Affair, by including other brothers and sisters in the process of selecting, explaining and modeling the use of symbols for practical communication.

Script your routines

Script the communication exchange ahead of time to maximize teaching opportunities. Scripting the activity means prior to an activity you write out what you plan to say to your child while you illustrate your words by to picture symbols. For example, if you were planning a bubble

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blowing activity you may start by saying, "blow bubbles" while you point to the symbols for 'blow' and 'bubbles.' After several repetitions of 'blow bubbles', you may want to say, “More” while pointing to the symbol for 'more’. This allows you to work on getting your child to recognize the symbol for “bubble”, but also starts encouraging him or her to start asking for things and initiating communication. Don't feel that the activity must go exactly as you have planned it. Follow your child's lead and try that are motivating particularly in the early days. Use your imagination to think of new and novel ways to encourage use of symbols and communication

Use different prompts to provide support

Prompting methods from least to most intrusive include: 1. waiting or pausing for a response (i.e., increased wait time) 2. Telling your child to "use his words" (i.e., verbal reminders) 3. Illustrating the correct symbol choice using or other visual without pointing to your child's actually communication board (i.e., visual prompts) 4. Modeling pointing to the correct symbol (i.e., gestural prompts) 5. Verbally stating the correct response (i.e., verbal model) 6. Physically helping your child point to the correct symbol (i.e., physical assistance)

Work with your Speech and Language Therapist to judge what mechanism to use and when, as always, every child is different and will require a different approach at different times.

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