Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

"Mini" Communication Boards

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

"Mini" Communication Boards

Article excerpt

A child with severe disabilities who is also nonverbal may need a useful, practical communication system to take an active part in daily activities. If your child's mental and physical disabilities preclude the use of manual communication (sign language) or electronic communication devices, or if your child can only handle a limited vocabulary at one time, homemade "mini" communication boards may be your answer.


Mini communication boards contain the vocabulary your child would need to ask and answer questions, make requests, direct the actions of others, direct the sequence of events, and/or make choices within a specific situation. Easily made from inexpensive, readily available materials, mini-boards are flexible, portable and highly personalized to best suit your child's needs. A child can use a mini-board by pointing or using eye-gaze. Mini-boards can contain any number and type of vocabulary items and, most importantly, can grow and change to meet your child's communication needs.

How to Start

Mini-boards provide a means of expressive communication, but only if your child is motivated to communicate. Therefore, make the first mini-board to help your child communicate during a favorite activity. Mealtime and leisure activities are good places to start because they are pleasurable, occur routinely through the day, and provide numerous opportunities for communication. You may have to make modifications in routines so that more active participation is required, especially if your child tends to be passive during these routines. Asking your child to identify objects as they are used by giving choices related to the activity, or letting your child tell you what to do next increases communication.

Be sure to consider all of your child's opportunities for communication when selecting mini-board topics. Your child's teacher can also suggest ways to incorporate mini-boards into the classroom setting. In addition, think about your child's family and social life. Could your child use a miniboard to play a game with siblings and friends, chat with a friendly cashier at the grocery store, or place an order at a fast food restaurant? Each mini-board you make for your child will increase his or her opportunities to communicate with a variety of people in a variety of contexts. You'll find a number of suggestions for mini-boards in this article, but you'll be able to think of many more once you open your mind to the possibilities ! Vocabulary Selection

Once you have selected a motivating activity for the mini-board, think about the words your child will need and how they will be used. The key words you choose will be your child's initial mini-board vocabulary. They will be predominantly nouns, although you can add verb phrases if your child is able to direct actions and sequences of events. For example, you can make a very simple first board for choice-making during mealtime by using pictures to depict "eat" and "drink."

Your child can use the mini-board to indicate what he or she wants next, especially if he or she is fed by a helper. You can also create a more detailed board that contains several food and drink choices, so your child can select a specific food or drink as well as the order of presentation. Another option is making a mini-board to help your child participate in cooking. You can include any number of vocabulary items, such as the names of utensils and ingredients, as well as verb phrases such as "stir it," "pour it" and "turn it on."

Representing Selected Vocabulary

Your child's speech/language therapist or classroom teacher can help you determine your child's visual skills and level of symbolic functioning. Depending on your child's visual and cognitive abilities, his or her "words" can consist of:

* objects -- actual or miniature (from toy or hobby stores),

* photographs -- snapshots or cut from magazines, advertisements or packages. …

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