Inside: Everything you need to know about communication boards for non-verbal or non-speaking children or adults. Including how to get started with a communication board.

If you live in the world that I live in, sitting in lobbies, waiting rooms and wherever else…you likely have seen a child carrying around a tablet or notebook with a lot of pictures velcro’d to it. That’s a communication board.

You may have heard people call it “pecs” which stands for picture exchange communication system. All PECS boards are communication boards, but not all communication boards are PECS boards.

an SLP teaching how to use a communication board
A communication board can be life changing!

Make sense? It’s ok if it doesn’t. Read on.

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PECS is a trademarked practice. It was developed right here near me, in Delaware.

It has very specific, evidence based protocols based on Skinner’s teachings. So, not every picture board or communication board is following the exact protocols and 6 phases.

But the term PECS is used loosely (though again, they’ve trademarked it!) when it shouldn’t be, to describe a picture board or communication board that isn’t necessarily following the protocols.

What is a Communication Board?

A communication board is a device that displays symbols, photos, or illustrations to help individuals with limited or no language skills communicate more easily. That’s the usual definition.

However, I can personally attest that there is another option. And that is, using the actual item.

My son had a strip near his desk with Velcro on it. Then, we used the actual items.

For example, he drank a juice pouch. We cleaned it, dried it, and put a piece of Velcro on it. He responded to that much better than he did a photo of a juice pouch or an illustration of a juice pouch.

Luckily, we had a creative IEP team who was willing to try new things. We did the same with a pullup and a few other items for which it was possible to do this.

Communication boards are considered a low-tech form of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) systems. They are often used to enhance and increase access to functional communication.

Communication boards can be customized for each individual, and they can be made out of various materials such as paper, cardboard, or plastic. The user can point to, gesture, or blink at the symbols to express their needs, wants, or thoughts.

child using a communication board
Usually a speech therapist helps develop the plan for a child using a communication board.

Communication boards are used by individuals with various conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, stroke, or traumatic brain injury.

Communication boards are a useful tool to help individuals with limited language skills communicate more effectively. They can be used in various settings such as schools, hospitals, homes, and community centers.

Communication boards are often used in conjunction with speech therapy to help individuals develop their communication skills and improve their quality of life.

Definition of Communication Board

A communication board is a tool that is used to facilitate communication for individuals who have limited language skills or are nonverbal. It is a type of augmentative or alternative communication (AAC) device that displays photos, symbols, or illustrations that the user can point to, gesture at, or blink at to convey their message.

Communication boards can be used in a variety of settings, including households, schools, and other community settings.

Communication boards can be made in different ways, including by hand or with software programs. Some popular software programs for making communication boards include Boardmaker and Smarty Symbols.

These programs allow users to create customized communication boards that are tailored to the specific needs of the individual using them.

Communication boards can be particularly helpful for individuals with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, or other conditions that affect speech and language.

By using a communication board, these individuals can express their wants, needs, and thoughts more easily, which can improve their quality of life and their ability to interact with others.

Communication boards are a valuable tool for individuals who have difficulty with verbal communication. They can be customized to fit the needs of the individual using them, and they can be used in a variety of settings to facilitate communication and improve the user’s ability to interact with others.

Types of Communication Boards

Communication boards are divided into two groups: low-tech and high-tech. Low-tech communication boards are simple and do not require any electronic devices. They are usually made of cardboard, paper, or laminated sheets.

These boards have pictures, symbols, or letters that the user can point to in order to communicate. They are easy to use, inexpensive, and can be customized to meet the user’s needs.

High-tech communication boards, on the other hand, are electronic devices that use speech-generating software to produce spoken words. These devices can be very expensive, but they offer more advanced features than low-tech communication boards.

High-tech communication boards can be programmed to speak entire sentences or phrases, and they can be customized to include specific words or phrases that the user needs.

Some high-tech communication boards also have eye-tracking technology that allows the user to select words or symbols by looking at them on the screen. This is particularly useful for individuals who have limited mobility or cannot use their hands to point to the symbols on the board.

The type of communication board that is best for an individual depends on their specific needs and abilities. Low-tech communication boards are a great option for individuals who have limited communication abilities and do not require advanced features.

High-tech communication boards are more expensive, but they offer more advanced features and can be customized to meet the user’s needs.

Uses for Communication Boards

Communication boards are used to help people with limited language skills express themselves. They can be used by people of all ages, including children and adults with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and other conditions that affect communication abilities.

Communication boards can be used in a variety of settings, such as schools, homes, hospitals, and therapy sessions. They are especially helpful in situations where verbal communication is difficult or impossible, such as during medical procedures or in noisy environments.

Some common uses of communication boards include:

  • Expressing basic needs and wants: Communication boards can help individuals communicate their basic needs and wants, such as asking for food, water, or a bathroom break.
  • Making choices: Communication boards can also be used to help individuals make choices, such as selecting a favorite toy or snack.
  • Participating in social interactions: Communication boards can facilitate social interactions, such as greeting others or engaging in small talk.
  • Learning new vocabulary: Communication boards can be used to teach new vocabulary and help individuals expand their communication skills.

Communication boards are a valuable tool for individuals with limited language skills to communicate their thoughts, needs, and desires.

Communication Boards for Adults

Many people think of only the school setting when they hear about PECS or communication boards.

But, any age of person can use a communication board. And, even if the person is an adult, the idea of using a communication board should not be dismissed. Especially if the person has had an accident, stroke or other life altering event that has affected their speech.

Benefits of Communication Boards

Communication boards have many benefits for individuals with limited language skills, including those with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and other conditions. Here are some of the benefits of using a communication board:

  • Improved Communication: Communication boards allow individuals to express themselves and communicate their needs, wants, and feelings. By using symbols or pictures, individuals can communicate more effectively and efficiently, reducing frustration and improving their quality of life.
  • Increased Independence: Communication boards can help individuals become more independent by enabling them to communicate their needs and wants without relying on others to interpret their gestures or vocalizations.
  • Enhanced Social Interaction: Communication boards can facilitate social interactions by enabling individuals to initiate and maintain conversations, make requests, and express emotions.
  • Improved Learning: Communication boards can be used in educational settings to support learning and language development. By using the boards, individuals can practice language skills, learn new vocabulary, and improve their comprehension.
  • Reduced Behavioral Issues: Communication boards can reduce behavioral issues that may arise from frustration or communication difficulties. By providing individuals with a means of communication, they may be less likely to engage in challenging behaviors.

Communication boards can greatly improve the quality of life for individuals with limited language skills. They can enhance communication, increase independence, facilitate social interactions, support learning, and reduce behavioral issues.

Considerations When Choosing a Communication Board

When creating a communication board, there are several important considerations to keep in mind. First, it is crucial to tailor the board to the individual’s specific needs and abilities.

This may involve using pictures or symbols that are familiar to the individual, or incorporating specific vocabulary or phrases that they commonly use.

Another important consideration is the size and layout of the board. The board should be large enough to accommodate all necessary symbols or pictures, but not so large that it becomes unwieldy or difficult to use.

It is also important to consider the placement of symbols on the board, as well as the use of color and contrast to make the board easier to navigate. For example, research shows that a yellow/black contrast is more preferred than white/black for some vision impairments.

In addition to these design considerations, it is important to consider how the board will be used in practice.

This may involve training caregivers or family members on how to use the board effectively, or incorporating the board into a broader communication strategy that includes other forms of augmentative or alternative communication.

Finally, it is important to keep in mind that communication boards are just one tool among many that can be used to support communication for individuals with autism and other conditions. Depending on the individual’s needs and abilities, other forms of AAC, such as speech-generating devices or sign language, may be more appropriate.

As such, it is important to work with a qualified professional to determine the best approach for each individual.

How to Get Started with a Communication Board

These are so easy to start and implement.

You don’t need to jump right to an expensive device with expensive software.

Ask your child’s OT or SLP about getting started. You may want to request an AAC evaluation or just start trialing using a communication board.

Frequently Asked Questions about Communication Boards

If you are considering a communication board, here is a little bit more information.

What are the different types of communication boards?

Communication boards come in various forms, from simple handmade boards with pictures or symbols to computerized programs that use voice output. Some boards are also designed to be used with eye-tracking technology.

How can you create a communication board?

Handmade communication boards can be created using materials such as cardboard, paper, or foam board, and can be customized with symbols or pictures that are meaningful to the user.

Computerized programs can also be used to create digital communication boards. Velcro is usually a must for a communication board.

You want to consider the language needs and preferences for the person using it. Some adults may not respond to a drawing and a photo will be better. Or, like my son, use the actual item before you start.

My son could not make the connection between an animated drawing of a boy eating, and his being hungry or thirsty. But, a juice pouch worked. When he was thirsty, he would bring the juice pouch to his person.

Who typically utilizes communication boards?

Communication boards are often used by individuals with conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy, or Down syndrome, who have difficulty with verbal communication.

They can also be used by individuals who have suffered a stroke or traumatic brain injury, or those who have undergone a laryngectomy.

What are some potential drawbacks of using communication boards?

One potential drawback of using communication boards is that they can be time-consuming to use, especially for those who are not familiar with them.

They can also be limiting in terms of vocabulary and may not always accurately convey the user’s intended message.

What are some situations where a communication board might be necessary?

Communication boards can be necessary in situations where verbal communication is difficult or impossible, such as in noisy environments or when the user is experiencing pain or discomfort. They can also be useful in educational settings, where they can aid in classroom participation and social interaction.

What advantages do communication boards offer?

Communication boards can provide a means of communication for individuals who would otherwise have difficulty expressing themselves verbally. They can also promote independence and improve social interaction, as well as aid in educational and vocational settings.

Communication is essential to quality of life.

Make sure you ask your team about this option is communication is a challenge for your child or loved one.

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