What is a Symbol?
- A symbol is something that stands for something else because of a taught association or because of resemblance to a thing, activity or concept.
- A symbol can be a gesture, sign, object, photo, product label, black-and-white graphic or color graphic.
- Augmentative and alternative communication systems use symbols.
How is a Symbol System Used?
- Symbols represent the real object in the environment or the abstract idea that is being discussed.
- Example of teaching a symbol system: An individual touches a toy car on a choice board. The individual is not given the toy car (the symbol) from the choice board, but rather is given what the toy car represents, e.g., a ride in the car, or toy cars from toy box.
Unaided Symbol System
- Gestures and Sign Language-
- This is called “unaided” communication because you do not need a device to communicate.
- Great place to start because many gestures and signs look like what you are referring to.
- Sign Language Dictionaries-
Aided Symbols System
- Great place to start for individuals who do not understand photos or picture/graphic symbols.
- Make your own object cards. Attach the object using glue or Velcro.
- Add photo or picture/graphic symbol to object card to help individual with incidental learning of how to communicate with picture/graphic symbols.
- Maintain a similar, plain background for all photos if possible.
- Keep photos simple.
- Find free photos at:
- Photos can easily be imported into Boardmaker.
- Easy to modify
- Sometimes very abstract and have to be taught
Inexpensive or free objects or picture/graphic symbols
- Objects from dollar-type stores
- Objects found in home or school
- Product labels
- Logos downloaded from internet sites
- Toy cartons
General Search Engines (click on Image tab):
Free Programs to Make Communications Boards and Free Symbols Sets:
- Schlera NPO
- ARASAAC Pictograms
- Slater Software Literacy Support Pictures
- Tinsnips (click on “back to school”)
- Speaking of Speech (click on “materials exchange”)
- Special Education Technology Galleries (each file is offered in pdf and bmk formats)
- Beyond Autism
- Picture Set
- Picture Dictionary
- Free Clip Art
- Pictures organized by categories
- PRC Symbols
- Special Education Technology British Columbia
- Train Land
Free Spelling Communication Boards:
To find out more about what symbols are and how to use them effectively for communication and education, visit Widgit Software , the YAACK Homepage, or the Michigan EUP Visual Supports guide. For communication strategies for children with autism, visit the homepage of Joanne Cafiero, PhD, Augmentative Communication Specialist.