How to Use a Communication Board

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If you’ve spent any time here on my website or follow me on social media, then you’ve probably noticed that I love visual resources. Visual supports are imperative for child learning, and especially for children with autism. And there are few visual supports that I love more than a communication board (you can download my FREE Core Communication Board here).

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I love communication boards because they are the best way to give children the visual supports they need to learn language. So what exactly is a communication board?

A communication board is a visual representation of language—all organized in a very strategic way. In short, it helps children, and especially children with autism, better visualize and understand language. The communication board I created focuses on core words, and is set up to help children easily combine words into sentences.

So to help you get started with using a communication board, I’ve outlined four tips below.

1.)   Always have your communication board available

My first, and most important recommendation when using a communication board is to remember to use it all the time, since children need lots of experiences to learn new vocabulary. The more you use it, the more exposure your child will have to various words. Then you’ll be able to continuously introduce new vocabulary.

2.)   Find something motivating

When you're getting started with a communication board, it’s essential to find a motivating activity. This should be something that makes your child smile and laugh. It could be as simple as a special toy or playing their favorite video on YouTube. A lot of my kids LOVE sensory input, so tickles and squeezes work too. The key, however, is for the motivation to be there. Otherwise, we won't have kids buying into this new way of communicating.

3.)   Choose a word

Next, make the communication board easily accessible and visible to your child and choose a word that makes sense. I love to start with “go,”  because there’s so many different ways to use that single word. You can make the train “go.” You can say “go” to have them turn on their favorite TV show. They can say “go” to play outside.

If your child likes to eat (who doesn’t?!), then you use a word like “eat,” or if they are thirsty you can use the word “drink.”  Just choose a single word and then start modeling. All you have to do is touch the word on the communication board and then say it at the same time. For example, if your child is really motivated by ice cream, I’d use the word “eat.” I put the communication board next to the child and I say “eat” while pointing to it on the board. Then, give them a bite of ice cream! After a bite I would stop and model it again, “eat,” while holding the ice cream up. I keep repeating this until the child starts to understand the association.

4.)   Pause

After you do this for a few times the next step is to pause. You should have your child primed and ready for a bite of ice cream, but then, instead of modeling, just wait and see what happens. A lot of times kids will look up at you, expecting you to continue the routine. But this is the moment when you provide them the word to ask for what they want. You can point to the word “eat” and see if they point after you, or see if they try to say the word on their own.

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Additionally, when you're working on communication, I always tell parents two very important things.

First, I tell them to praise every communication attempt. Communication attempts can be as simple as making a sound, making eye contact, or touching anywhere on the board. They don't have to touch the right word, it just has to be some type of initiation.

Secondly, my favorite phrase is “inspire don't require.” We never want to force a child to communicate with us. Instead, we want to be strategic about choosing highly motivating activities and then tempting them to communicate. Some kids pick this up right away while others may need time and lots of repetition before they get the hang of it.

It’s important to remember that this is a completely different way of communicating. The only way a child will learn is if adults around them show them how to do it. Start small with one activity for 15 minutes a day and then slowly build up from there.

And finally, don’t be afraid that using a communication board will prevent your child from talking. I find it’s actually quite the opposite. The more strategic exposure to language we give a child, the more likely they will be to start verbally communicating. I find that once a child starts understanding language, then they are more apt to start using it on their own. Visual supports such as a communication board help children with autism begin to understand language better.

Now you’re ready to download my free communication board here. Once you download it, you’ll also receive access to a really helpful video that shows you exactly how to use it!

If you’ve already downloaded your free “Lite” version mentioned above then it might be time for an upgrade! My “Communication Board Bundle” includes both a “Mid” and “Full” version of the board along with a bonus “Food” board to help your child communicate during meal times.

Is your child stuck using single words? Click here for my “Building Sentences Board” that can help your child with autism start communicating in sentences.

OVER TO YOU…

Have you used a communication board yet? Let me know how it went in the comments below!

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