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.
- Language Trademarks: Beginner Guide to ASL
- 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
- Tinsnips (Resources)
- Speaking of Speech (click on “materials exchange”)
- Beyond Autism
- Picture Dictionary
- Free Clip Art
- Pictures organized by categories
- Special Education Technology British Columbia
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 or the YAACK Homepage. For communication strategies for children with autism, visit the homepage of Joanne Cafiero, PhD, Augmentative Communication Specialist.