A communication board can be an effective tool to help those living with autism better understand language through visual representation.

parent helping autistic child with communication boardShare on Pinterest
Illustration by Brittany England

If you’re the parent of a child living with autism who has trouble expressing and communicating verbally, you may be wondering if a communication board would help.

A communication board is a device that displays symbols or illustrations to help individuals with limited or no language skills communicate more easily.

Different types of communication boards can help children with autism as well as other disabilities.

Understanding the purpose of a communication board and how it works can help you decide whether this communication tool may benefit your loved one.

A communication board is a type of augmentative or alternative communication (AAC) device that allows nonverbal individuals to communicate with others.

These devices can be handmade or digital programs that can be used in the home, at school, or in other settings, such as your community.

The purpose of a communication board is to help users express their wants and needs more effectively. Through the use of illustrations, these boards can help people with limited or no language ability connect with others.

How to use a communication board

It can be difficult to communicate with someone who is nonverbal. Communication boards help bridge the gap between those who are verbal and those who are not by providing a way for them to understand one another.

You can use a communication board to:

  • ask questions
  • express your wants and needs
  • offer a choice
  • indicate a decision
  • show a schedule

What are nonverbal communication cards?

Nonverbal communication cards, such as the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) are a technique that allows nonverbal individuals to communicate with others through the use of simple images that represent words or tasks.

This widely used communication tool, created by Andy Bond and Lori Frost consists of six phases where the individual learns to exchange one picture card for what they want.

As the individual learns the method, the number of cards increases to where individuals can construct simple sentences to communicate their needs.

According to research, about 25-35% of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are nonverbal or have undeveloped language skills.

A growing amount of research has found that autistic children can benefit from early intervention in language development, especially when interventions were delivered by a combination of clinicians and caregivers.

Communication boards are an effective tool for autistic children because:

  • Symbols and pictures can help communicate messages when the spoken word is unavailable.
  • Users are learning a functional language to communicate their needs.
  • It can help autistic children become more independent.

What other disabilities can communication boards aid in?

According to the Augmentative or Alternative Communication (AAC) Institute, there are approximately 3.5 million people living in the United States that need assistance due to a speech disability.

In addition to those living with autism, communication boards can also be an effective tool for people with:

According to the American Speech Language and Hearing Association (ASHA), there are two types of communication boards. There are basic and manual communication boards, both of which are referred to as Augmentative or alternative communication (AAC).

Manual communication board

A basic or manual communication board is the use of pictures or symbols that may or may not be accompanied by words. For example, it can be:

  • pictures cut out of a magazine and glued to a notebook or file folder
  • symbols drawn by hand and organized onto paper or into fabric pockets
  • single-meaning pictures and/or symbols with easy-to-read speech

Most of the time, manual communication boards are graphic symbols that are paired with an accompanying word. The symbols and words are dependent upon the individuals’ abilities and needs.

One of the main advantages of a basic communication board is that they are relatively inexpensive. A lot of the time you can make it yourself or download it for free.

Augmentative or alternative communication (AAC)

An ACC communication board is a device that can be either electric or digital and be used on a computer or through an application on a tablet or smartphone.

This type of assistive technology can supplement speech by using a recorded digitalized voice or generate a synthetic voice that can be close to a user’s natural voice.

It can also display illustrations or symbols in a digital app or program that allows users to create messages for communication.

A high-tech AAC device can be costly. However, it may be possible to get federal funding; refer to the Medicaid Guidelines for your state. You can also look into your private insurance plan to see whether any necessary devices are covered under your policy.

You can also find a more affordable AAC by purchasing an app, such as Proloquo2go or Lamp, to use with an iPad. The Enabling Devices website may also have some affordable AAC options.

Free communication boards

There are many free resources to help facilitate communication for children with autism. Here are a few suggestions.

Nonverbal autistic children may benefit from using a communication board because it can help them express their wants and needs.

Those living with autism can communicate their preferences or make decisions by selecting pictures that represent words using a handmade board or a digital device that is on an app or computer program.

While people with autism can greatly benefit from using communication boards, other individuals with disabilities, like apraxia or ALS can also benefit from these devices.

The bottom line is that communication boards can be an effective tool in helping children learn to connect and speak with others through the use of visual representation.