Communication aids come in many shapes and sizes. Most need to be customised to match the physical, intellectual and social needs of the individual (see NECAS for more information). This includes personalising the vocabulary and content and considering issues such as how the person will carry the aid, point to items, and update and maintain the aid.
There are 4 different types of communication aids:
Comprehensive Expressive Aids: These aids aim to meet most of a person’s communication needs throughout their day. They include alphabet boards and communication boards and books, with a wide range of messages represented by letters, words, photos and/or symbols.
Targeted Expressive Aids: These aids are designed for specific situations when limited message sets are needed, such as community request cards, or object symbols to allow a person to make basic requests.
Visual Supports: Visual supports assist a person to make sense of their day, remember events, or help with the completion of tasks. Many people with complex communication needs have difficulty with memory and understanding abstract information. Examples of visual supports are picture or object calendars, picture shopping lists, and picture social stories.
Supports for Communication Partners: These provide details about an individual with complex communication needs, his/her means of communication, and other routine related information that assist a communication partner to consistently support this person throughout the day. Examples are a ‘Book About Me’, Personal Communication Dictionary or Personal History.
Examples of Communication Aids
Activity schedules may be suitable for people who find it hard to remember the ‘next steps’ in an activity or daily routine.
An activity schedule shows the sequence of all the steps or stages of an activity – for example; ‘the steps involved in making a coffee’, ‘the activities during a morning at school’ or ‘how to do the laundry’.
You can use whatever the person understands most easily e.g. photos, pictures, line drawings and/or words.
An alphabet board may be suitable for people who have literacy skills.
It can be designed specifically to suit the person’s needs eg. using either an ABC or QWERTY format – with direct access or partner-assisted auditory scanning.
A non-tech option such as this is also helpful as a back up for those people who may have an existing electronic communication device – remember batteries don’t last forever!
Alphabet Board with Photos
A photo alphabet board is a simple way to personalise an alphabet board.
The board sits in the middle and is framed by pictures or photos of important people, frequently requested items and other useful vocabulary.
The board may be in qwerty or alphabetical layout.
A behaviour script may be suitable for people who can understand photos, pictures or words.
It can help to reduce an inappropriate behaviour or reinforce an appropriate behaviour.
It tells a story about the appropriateness and the consequences for these behaviours through photos, pictures or words.
Examples of behaviour scripts are; ‘what to do when Bob burps’ or ‘how to praise Jamie during morning circle’.
Book About Me
A ‘Book about me’ may be suitable for people who can understand photos or pictures but is most useful for support workers.
It contains current, relevant information about a person’s needs and abilities.
It can provide support people with information about a person’s daily routine and how to support them consistently with activities of daily living e.g. during mealtimes.
It may also provide communication partners with information on the person’s likes and dislikes.
Some people find it difficult to manage their money.
We have to budget so that our income does not exceed our expenditure.
The budget wheel is a simple way to match the amount of money a person has with the different expenses that happen over a week.
Each piece of the wheel can represent the cost of an item and activity.
As the item or activity is paid for, it is replaced on the wheel. When the wheel is full, no money is left.
This calendar is designed for people who may find reading print difficult.
Routine events and activities are represented by clear pictures and photos that can be added or removed as needed.
Vocabulary includes appointments for hairdresser, doctor, dentist, and other paramedics (e.g. physio, podiatry), visits to friends and family, special events such as birthdays, weddings, holidays and funerals and other activities such as going to the gym, swimming, shopping, picnics, movies… You may also request personalised items.
Used effectively by people who understand objects, photos or pictures.
It is designed so that people who find it hard to express themselves can relate information about activities and events that they have experienced.
They include topics of conversation, information about the activity or event and some interactive statements to engage other people in these conversations. (referred to as remnant/memento or conversation book, talking points & props).
Laminated pages allow for the use of water-soluble markers to highlight or cross off days.
Self-adhesive line drawings allow different events and activities to be placed onto the relevant days.
Extra vocabulary items can be requested. However, individual instructions for use need to be added.
We all have our preferred way of going through the activities of daily living. This includes how we like to get dressed. Most people have a set sequence which allows us to dress quickly and efficiently.
A dressing routine chart is useful when you have to rely on others to help with the process.
Sometimes a number of helpers are involved and change can be distressing.
Getting dressed in the same sequence allows the person being helped to assist as they are able to anticipate the next step. Any daily activity can be broken down into a sequence of steps and personalised for an individual.
Electronic Communication Devices – Overlays
Overlays are required by people who use some electronic communication devices.
These devices have speech and/or print output and many need an object, photo, picture or word based overlays that communication partners can change for the individual when required.
Standardised overlays can be developed to fit any device foe any activity.
This is a black and white chequered mat that is used as a concrete visual symbol to represent ‘finish’.
It may be useful for people who find it difficult to anticipate and accept that an activity is finished eg. art and craft is finished when the paint goes onto the mat.
Other strategies that have been used effectively include using a finished box or finished bag.
This communication aid allows access to a large vocabulary.
The first pages cover the index and allow the user to “go to” a range of topics.
Tabs make it easier to navigate through the pages.
Each page allows the user to return to the index.
The content may be picture, word or photo-based. Some people also include the alphabet if they have spelling skills.
The vocabulary should be personalised to reflect the individual’s skills and interests.
‘My Day’ Book
‘My day’ books are a valuable way of using pictures and photos with people who need support to share information about the things that they have been doing in their day.
They can be useful for people who need visual reminders.
They allow for communication about the things that they have been doing, how they have felt, anything different or special that has happened, where they have been and anything they need to bring the next day.
Communication partners in both the home and work or school environments can use a news book to write down what has happened during the day, how the person has been throughout the day and anything that they may need to remember to do or bring.
There are a variety of ideas for different formats such as a “fill in the blanks” format or a ‘News’ bookmark.
Disclaimer: The Communication Aids & Resource materials described herein are for use only in accordance with appropriate professional advice. Scope (Vic) Ltd (“Scope”) accepts no responsibility or liability for any injury, loss or damage resulting from the deliberate or accidental misuse of its products. Subject to any applicable law that cannot be excluded, Scope makes no warranties as to the quality, fitness for purpose or merchantability of products or product components that Scope obtains from third party suppliers).