Supporting Expressive Language with Visuals

In our last post, we learned a little about how visuals can help with receptive language. This time, let’s spend some time looking at how visuals can help with expressive language. Visuals can be used to increase expressive language skills in both people who are non-verbal, and those who have verbal skills. They can serve as reminders (cues) to a person about the word they want to use, or the word order for what they want to express. In addition, visual supports for expressive language decrease the cognitive load for verbalization, and allow the individual to focus on talking.

There are two general categories of visuals that can be used for expressive language purposes: low tech/no tech with no voice (speech) output, and high tech with voice output. Individuals can use these visual tools to express themselves by: pointing to pictures/words that are available to express the word, handing the visual to their communication partner, or using eye gaze to look at the visual.

Three main types of low tech visuals that are used for increasing the expressive language communication of individuals are: choice boards/books, core language vocabulary notebooks, and PODD books. Choice boards are what they sound like, boards that have pictures or text choice options on them. A PECs (Picture Exchange Communication System) book would be a type of choice book. Choice boards/books are not solely limited to PECs style communication notebooks, and can be any type of board or book where the user is able to pick from a variety of choices to communicate. A core vocabulary communication board/book is a communication system that is comprised of a combination of frequently occurring vocabulary words that occur in a wide variety of communication environments. A PODD book (Pragmatic Organization Dynamic Display) is a book that is Pragmatic (uses realistic social language), Organized (words and symbols arranged in a systematic way), and uses a Dynamic Display (the ability to change pages to incorporate a robust vocabulary system).

High tech visual use is typically done with a communication device that is either a dedicated communication device, or an iPad with a communication app. High tech device use can be used both alternatively, and also augmentatively. If an individual has little to no verbal ability, their use of a high tech device (or a low tech one) is considered to be alternative- it is used instead of verbal speech. But a high tech device is not limited to individuals who are completely non-verbal. Many people who have some verbal skills use them augmentatively, or in addition to their verbal speech output. They may use the device to help them with vocabulary that is difficult to say, to make longer sentences than they are able to produce on their own, or to help repair or clarify verbal messages that they have spoken that may not have been fully understood by their listener.

In our next two posts, we will go over more details about the specific types of low tech visuals and high tech visuals that can be used to increase expressive communication skills for those who have difficulties with expressive language. Sign up to follow our blog on the right side of this page so you don’t miss anything!

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