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"Mini" communication boards.

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. Cut out all distracting backgrounds and mount photos on black and white paper to increase visual contrast.

* line drawings -- commercially available (ask your speech/language therapist) or homemade. Color the most salient feature with a marker or colored pencil to make the drawings more distinctive and meaningful.

* written words -- if your child can read.

Arranging Pictures/Objects

You can arrange any number of pictures or objects in any configuration, depending on your child's visual, cognitive and pointing abilities. Some children do best with only one or two items on a display, widely-spaced. Others can handle 10 or more small pictures or miniature objects, arranged in tight rows. You will have to experiment with various objects or pictures and their arrangement to determine the best presentation for your child.

In planning the arrangement of the vocabulary items, also consider these questions:

* Will the mini-board be displayed upright (hanging or easel-style) or flat (on a table or his or her wheelchair tray)?

* Which hand will your child use for pointing, and what is his or her range and accuracy of motion with that hand?

* Will your child use his or her eyes to "point"?


The purpose of the mini-board is to provide your child with a functional mode of expression -- pointing to objects or pictures on the board. The best way for the child to learn this is to watch someone else consistently use the technique with success. You will be the model for your child. Use the mini-board consistently by pairing your speech with a point to the appropriate item on the board. By doing this, you will teach your child that the pictures or objects on the mini-board represent objects and/or people in the environment, and that touching a picture or object on the board is an effective way of communicating wants and needs. Even if your child understands your speech, you should always accompany your oral questions, requests and directions with a point to the appropriate picture or object.

An example for initial modeling with a mini-board: Say "Do you want a cookie?", then point to the picture of a cookie.

Training Tips

1. Keep your language simple.

2. Always emphasize the key word(s).

3. Keep your language consistent. You may want to label the pictures with the names you have assigned them, so that shoes aren't also referred to as "Nikes," "sneakers" or "hightops," depending on who is talking to the child.

4. When encouraging your child to point to a picture or object, use the prompt "Put your hand on the --" and provide hand-over-hand assistance as needed. This kind of prompt is more helpful than saying "Point to the --."

5. Provide lots of positive feedback to establish the link between touching the picture and getting the desired item. Example: "Your hand is on the cookie. Here's a cookie for you."

6. Training should only occur in meaningful situations. For instance, work with a grooming board during grooming, a meal-related board while eating, or a clothing mini-board while dressing.

Once your child is familiar with the items on the mini-board, you can move him or her toward using it for expressive communication. Model the use of the board for asking questions, making requests, directing the actions of people and events, and making choices. Encourage your child to use the board to initiate communication ("What are you trying to tell me? Show me on your board."). Be sure the mini-boards are stored or displayed in a convenient place, readily available to your child. Hooks and magnets make it easy to hang boards when not in use. If he or she cannot get a board without assistance, teach your child to use a signal to "call" for a board. This signal could be pointing or eye-gazing to a picture of a mini-board taped to his or her tray, vocalizing or activating a buzzer assigned to this purpose.

Home Uses for Mini-Boards

A mini-board(s) with pictures of a cup, plate, bowl, etc., taped onto the kitchen cabinets which hold these items may aid your child in putting away clean dishes, getting dishes out to set the table, or requesting a specific needed dish or utensil. Draw a place setting on a paper place mat to create a mini-board which will help your child set the table.

A mini-board of favorite snacks hung on the refrigerator or pantry door allows your child to request a snack without searching through the fridge or cabinets, or making you play "20 Questions."

A mini-board depicting art supplies or toys and leisure items hung on the appropriate closet door or next to his or her bed or chair lets your child choose materials during free time.

Pictures representing contents of bureau drawers taped to the drawers may aid your child in putting away clean clothes and/or selecting what to wear.

A mini-board showing necessary elements of a routine or task, such as brushing teeth or washing the dishes, could be kept in the appropriate area. By pointing to a picture of an item, your child can indicate that an item is missing ("Where is the soap?") or that help is required ("1 can't get the cap off the toothpaste.").

Photos of family members, pets and friends should be available to your child so he or she can request, ask about or tell about those people and pets with whom he or she interacts. For instance, a point or gaze to Grandpop's picture could mean,"Where is Grandpop?" or "When is Grandpop coming?" or "Can I go visit Grandpop?", depending on the context.

Vocabulary used in games can enable your child to play with friends. A simple board for "Go Fish" could depict the cards your child might request, as well as the words or symbols to answer "I have it" and "Go Fish." Think about the games your child might want to play, then make up a mini-board with the core vocabulary. This is a wonderful way to increase your child's expressive skills and social interactions.

Photos or drawings of places and activities may help your child make choices and requests during the day's events. Examples of places: school, Grandmom's, the park, the mall. Examples of activities: eat, drink, swim, watch TV, listen to music.

A mini-board of fast food items allows your child to order a burger and flies for him or herself.

Your child may be able to select his or her own TV viewing with a mini-board TV/ movie schedule. Magazines related to TV and movie stars are great sources of pictures which can be used to represent favorite programs.

If your child understands delayed gratification, pictures of food cut from ads, labels and packaging allow him or her to choose the menu for a family meal. Your child can request favorite foods or make choices between options. The pictures your child selects can be placed in a plastic page protector to be used as a shopping list mini-board to involve your child in preparing the meal. Examples: "Look in the bowl. What is it?" "What do we need/do next?"


Mini communication boards may be the ideal solution for the child who needs an expressive mode of communication, but can only handle a limited vocabulary at one time. Inexpensive and easy to make, miniboards can change and grow with your child. One or more situation-specific mini-boards may sufficiently meet your child's expressive communication needs. Or, they can serve as an important step toward a more sophisticated communication system.

Patricia L. Mervine is a speech/language pathologist in Bucks County, Pa. She lives in Langhome, Pa. with her husband, Lance, and 10-year-old son, Gregg. She received her master's in speech/language pathology from Trenton State (N. J.) College in 1990. Her article, Creating Opportunities For COMMUNICATION, appeared in the June 1992 issue of Exceptional Parent.
COPYRIGHT 1992 EP Global Communications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Mervine, Patricia L.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Jul 1, 1992
Previous Article:A future through technology.
Next Article:Incontinence.

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