Unaided Communication Systems

Gestures, facial expressions, body movement, and vocalizations are the earliest forms of unaided communication. In the framework of the Communication Matrix, these behaviors correspond to the earliest levels of communication. The terms prelinguistic (i.e., prior to language) or presymbolic are often used to describe this form of communication. Many excellent resources to support teams working with students who communicate in this way can be found on the National Center for Deaf-Blindness website. Two of our favorites are listed below.

Manual signing is a more sophisticated form of unaided communication. Individuals who are deaf-blind may use a tactile form of American Sign Language or some individualized set of signs that are not used in the context of a formal language system such as ASL. Instead, signs are single word or short combinations of signs used to sign key words to convey a message. This fact sheet provides guidance to help adults choose conceptually accurate signs for these purposes.

Aided Communication Systems

aided communication device

Aided communication systems involve the use of some type of symbol to convey a message. The most important is that the symbols make sense to the student! It is not unusual for a student’s system to consist of a mix of symbol types, depending upon the context and what is most understandable to the user. Labeling symbols with the printed word and/or braille is recommended. Not only does this ensure that symbols are understandable by all potential communication partners, it provides a good opportunity for student to become exposed to more abstract symbol systems. Check the communication resource list to get additional information about these common symbol systems, as well as various approaches to displaying symbols.

There are many approaches available to display communication symbols. Consider a combination of approaches so that the communication supports available to a child is appropriate to the context. For example, carrying some type of bulky communication device is not practical for a child during playground time. Similarly, a system that does not produce any auditory or visual signaling for a communication partner is not helpful in a situation in which there is no one in close proximity to see some type of gesture or pointing to a symbol. Check the Communication Resource List for information about display systems.