What are communication boards used for?
Communication boards are used to enhance and increase access to functional communication, like any Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) system. They are considered a low tech version of AAC. We have a full post on low tech AAC options you can read more about.
What do communication boards look like?
Communication boards often look different depending on the needs and language skills of the individual using them.
An individual who is in the emerging language page may use a simple core words board, with a few options for “help,” “more,” “go,” ...etc.
An individual who has developed language and can read and spell effectively may have the alphabet on a communication board so they can spell out the messages they want to communicate.
Communication boards are usually customized to the individual user. Oftentimes, they have a combination of letters (to spell specific words) and high-frequency/core words (e.g. bathroom, pain, help, food) to help individuals communicate effectively and efficiently. This is why we see communication boards being used alongside high tech devices all the time! Just because an individual is a high tech AAC user, doesn’t mean that they cannot also have access to communication boards or another (lower tech) system.
How do you make a communication board?
Communication board generators
There are many softwares available to make communication boards to fit your user(s), including:
Boardmaker - free Community membership; $99 annually for Personal membership (with free 60 day trial)
Chat Editor (through TouchChat) - free
Cboard - free (multiple languages offered)
Lesson Pix - $36 annually
PICTO4me - free
SymbolStix PRIME - $129.99 annually
There are several different ways and softwares to use when making communication boards (and certainly no one-size-fits-all approach)! As an SLP, if the communication board is used for a larger portion of the individual’s day, I usually prefer to make a communication board tailored to that specific AAC user. However, in certain settings or for certain contexts I may have a “general” communication board that can be used across different users. Some of these settings/contexts include:
Communication board considerations
Symbol system - You may want to select a symbol system that is similar to the user’s high tech device so that visuals are consistent and it is easier for the individual to learn and generalize. There are several different types of symbols that are also used for varying AAC softwares, such as SymbolStix, Picture Communication Symbols (PCS), Smarty Symbols, Mulberry Symbol Set, PRC/Unity Symbols, etc.
Grid size - Depending on the user, grid size can vary drastically (think: 4 buttons to 50+ buttons). If the individual will primarily be using the communication board in a single setting (e.g., lunch), an involved 42+ grid may be too extensive and decrease efficient access to relevant symbols. If the individual is using the communication board for their primary form of communication across settings, more buttons to reflect each setting may be appropriate.
Keyboard - For many individuals, a complete keyboard may not be necessary (e.g., if the individual is very young or a non-reader). A keyboard may be appropriate for the individual with advanced literacy skills who understands the function of typing and constructing independent messages without visual support. I tend to see more keyboards used with individuals with acquired language disorders; often being used temporarily (or along with a high tech system), such as at bedside within a hospital/nursing facility or with an individual with a progressive disease.
Button messages - Communication boards can have a single button with a visual to represent an entire phrase (e.g., “I need to go to the bathroom”) or individual words/short phrases for the user to construct (e.g., “I” or “I want”). For an emerging AAC user who is learning the core words and the individual function of each word, I usually will keep button messages as short as possible and make consistent with the grid presented on their high tech system (if applicable).
Button positioning - Like high tech AAC layouts, positioning of buttons should follow some sort of structure. For example, the (Modified) Fitzgerald Key is a way to color code and organize buttons so they follow a predictable sentence structure; so the color yellow would represent people/pronouns, subjects and the color green would represent actions/verbs. Usually, the same colors would fall into a similar region of the communication grid and not randomly displayed across the page.
FREE premade communication boards
The Lingraphica site (see here) offers a variety of free communication boards
Talk to Me Technologies (see here) offers free communication boards
AssistiveWare offers free communication boards. Featured (see here) are boards consistent with the ProloQuo2Go software
AAC Community by Temple University offers free printables, such as their COVID-19 core communication board (see here)
Amy Speech and Language Therapy Inc. (see here) offers a variety of free communication boards varying on context and setting
Eager to share another AAC resource with our readers! Additionally, we are always open to questions and collaboration with other professionals. Should you have any other questions (or AAC recommendations!) please let us know firstname.lastname@example.org or Insta DM us @communicationcommunity.