In the midst of a technology boom in augmentative alternative communication (AAC), we sometimes overlook the value of good old-fashioned no-tech tools like communication books. Building a communication book might seem intimidating, but just requires a bit of thought and time. The results will greatly benefit you and your students.
What is a communication book?
A communication book is a form of AAC allowing the user to communicate by pointing or looking at specific sections of various pages. Communication books often contain pictures or picture symbols accompanied by a word or label. To build a communication book using symbol icons, you must have access to picture communication software, such as Boardmaker or SymbolStix.
Why build a communication book?
- You can use visual language supports to aid verbal speech.
- You can create a customized, comprehensive, low-tech, inexpensive communication system for a complex communicator.
- You can build books with materials accessible to many speech-language pathologists.
How big should it be?
The size of your book depends on three things:
- Number of icons per page (icon field number)
- Size of icons
- Number of pages
If you want a student to carry this book around independently, consider the student’s size, strength, mobility and other things they carry during the day to determine the most practical size limit.
- Icon field number
When determining how many icons to include per page, consider:
The student’s cognitive level. Students with greater cognitive needs may benefit from fewer icons per page—a smaller field—and therefore a lower processing demand.
The student’s linguistic level. Students with higher linguistic levels may need access to a broader range of icons. A larger field fits more icons and maximizes the use of each page.
To determine this, collect data on the student’s performance with various field numbers. Use a trial static board or individual icons arranged in a grid like the page of a communication book. Depending on the size of your book, more icons per page mean smaller icons.
- Icon size
Consider two primary factors when determining icon size:
Visual skills: Students with visual impairment need larger symbol icons, bright colors and potentially a black background. Consult with your school’s vision specialist if possible.
Fine motor skills: Students with fine motor needs also benefit from larger icons with more white space around each one, which offers more leeway for the target selection. Collaborating with an occupational therapist can help you estimate appropriate icon size and white space needed.
- Number of pages
Ultimately, the number of icons per page, icon size, and length of desired content contribute to the number of pages. Keep in mind, more pages equal more weight as well as more navigation demands. I like to add tabs to the bottom of my pages for easier navigation. You can add these manually or through your book-making program.
What should you include?
Core vocabulary should make up the heart of your book, but fringe vocabulary also takes up a bulk of pages. Every communication book fits different needs, but many basic formats include the following components:
- Home page(s) with core words
- Action words
- Personal information
- Greetings and social exchanges
- Quick, commonly used phrases (e.g., “I need help,” “I need a break,” “I’m in pain,” “Bathroom, please”)
- Food and drinks (organized by type of food or by meal time)
- Adjectives and identifying features
- Body parts
- Clothing items
- Toys and/or favorite activities
- Colors, shapes, letters and numbers
- School supplies
- Question words
- Age-appropriate slang
- School specific activity pages (e.g., “cooking class”)
- Home specific activity pages (e.g., “bath time”)
The way you arrange the book depends on the individual student. Arrange the book based on categories, topics and activities. For example, make “I feel” as the first icon on the “Feelings” page. Interview parents, teachers, paraprofessionals, service providers, the student, and the student’s peers to gather more information about how to best individualize each communication book.
What else should I consider?
- Use a miniature or standard binder for an easy book cover. For a flatter book that can remain open to a particular page or section, cut up a binder or corrugated plastic into a front and back and connect them with key rings or loose zip ties.
- Cut out your book’s pages and then laminate them. This protects the seal.
- If you can’t access a laminator, use page protectors in a pinch.
- Reinforce punched holes with tape or hole-reinforcement stickers to prevent tearing.
Vanessa Fanourgiakis, MS, CCC-SLP, is a school-based SLP from the San Francisco Bay Area. She specializes in AAC and bilingual-Spanish evaluations and treatment. Follow her on Twitter at @SLPvanessa or e-mail her at SLPvanessa@gmail.com.