Materials for non-verbal communication, Part Two

Yesterday we left off figuring which type of symbol your child can use best to express herself. This can take some time and experimentation, and that's just fine. My own daughter went straight into simple line drawings and that worked well for her.

Today we'll look at backgrounds and sizes of symbol cards.

Card size is determined by several things. The most important consideration is your child's visual and developmental needs. Very young children and those who have difficulty seeing tend to do better with larger symbols, such as 3" or 4" squares. This size is also sometimes needed if children require a large target to swat. 2" is a fairly standard size used by many kids and classrooms because it's still easy to see, and has the advantage of being large enough to be handled individually or pointed to on a board of several symbols. Symbols smaller than 2" can be a bit tricky to use (mostly for the person communicating with the child!) and are usually reserved for children with AMAZING pointing abilities or for access on computer screens.

Situations also dictate symbol size. If you are adapting a book to read along with symbol support (I'll cover this in a future post), the size of the book may require smaller symbols just so they will fit. If you need your child to make LARGE head or arm movements so you can see them easily (i.e.: watching in a mirror while riding in the car...be sure you are a PASSENGER interpreting your child, not the driver!), you might need to make oversized symbol cards for that situation. And here, I must digress to share a heart-warming story about large symbols...

My daughter had the most FABULOUS kindergarten teacher ever! This wonderful woman was a general education teacher embracing A, with all her unique challenges, into her typical classroom. Mrs. C had never had a student like my daughter before but she adjusted with grace and style. We created large yes/no cards--5 or 6" across and laminated onto cardboard--so A could respond to questions during circle time when all the students sat on the floor gathered around the teacher. In a fit of sheer brilliance (maybe it was frustration, but I consider it brilliance), Mrs. C asked ALL the students to answer her questions "talking with your eyes, the way A does." The cards were large enough that the whole class could respond with only their eyes...and thus the "silent response" was born. Mrs. C discovered that this response style calmed her enthusiastic little crew on those wiggly-noisy days when a productive circle time would have otherwise been impossible. Best of all, it gave the kids practice with A's communication and made them more watchful partners. I don't know if it helped A feel more blended into the group or an honored member but, either way, she loved it. Mrs. C had always taught her students sign for the letters of the alphabet, which I admired because it built an appreciation for an alternate way to speak (and it kept busy little kindergarten hands doing something constructive). Now the students had several non-verbal strategies to communicate...valued, natural, normal methods. How blessed are they to bring such an outlook to life!

Symbols don't have to be printed on colored backgrounds, but there are some benefits to color-coding. When children move from selecting between a few symbols to a whole board, color codes help them find the symbol they want more quickly. Color codes are especially helpful when children start combining symbols into phrases. But probably the biggest help is that they remind the adults talking with their non-verbal kids to pay attention to the kinds of choices we are offering. Are we teaching and talking only about things? Are we giving our kids chances to request activities? To comment or ask questions? Are we modeling and offering language rich with descriptors? When our symbols are color-coded, a quick visual scan at the options we have set out will answer that very quickly! Remember, just as the nutritionists tell us to "eat a rainbow," make sure you also "speak a rainbow!" The corollary is to make sure our children also have the opportunity to speak rainbows. If ever we find ourselves offering choices from only one color category, we need to change what we are doing.
 
The most important thing with color coding is to be consistent with the colors you chose. Fitzgerald (1954) created a key that is the most widely used today in high-tech devices, so it is a good one to start practicing with early on. In fact, if you suspect your child will someday move onto a computered voice output device, you might check out what colors are used on these devices and incorporate them from the beginning (i.e.: VS Communicator used on the Tobii devices assigns purple to items in the "places" category, light gray to "time" items).  

Goossens', Crain, and Elder (1992) created another key for color-coding that was the standard for use in special ed preschools for years, although I don't know if that is still the case today.


Color coding can mean printing on colored paper (which means you need to be very organized and plan ahead), printing solid colored backgrounds (if you own stock in a company that makes printer ink refills), colored in with highlighter pens (if you have unlimited time) or printed with colored borders (for those of use who have to limited money AND time). Three guesses as to how we color code at our house...I have neither time nor money!

One quick side note:  I do print YES on a solid green background and NO on solid red. It makes for some quick looking!

As we talk about sizing and adding colors, making the symbol cards starts to get more time consuming if you are using a word processor. If there is a way you can afford--or find funding for--a commercial symbol creating program, you will thank yourself.




1 comment:

Patti said...

R-M! Why did I not know you had a blog?? I love this... will be reading intently!