When we choose symbols for children who have difficulty speaking, it’s important to give them a chance to try different symbol sets to see which ones they understand and prefer. This is because not all children understand the same symbols, and it wouldn’t be fair to choose symbols that are used by the majority of children if they don’t work well for others.
Research has shown that children who use alternative communication methods can understand symbols even if they look different from one set to another. This means that giving children access to multiple symbol sets can help them improve their language and communication skills. It also shows that children who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) are capable of generalizing the representation of symbols across different symbol sets. This means that they can recognize and use the same symbol across different symbol sets, even if they were not directly taught that symbol in that particular set.
There is research that shows that children can generalize the representation of symbols across different symbol sets. One study published in the Augmentative and Alternative Communication journal in 2018 found that children with complex communication needs were able to learn and generalize symbols across multiple symbol sets, including those with different graphic styles and organization. The study suggests that providing access to multiple symbol sets can benefit children’s language development and communication skills. Another study published in the American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology in 2016 found that preschool children who were trained to use a particular symbol set were able to generalize to novel words represented by different symbol sets. Overall, these studies suggest that children have the ability to generalize symbol representations across different symbol sets, which supports the use of multiple symbol sets in communication boards and other AAC devices.
- Drager, K. D., Postal, V. J., Carrolus, L., Castellano, M., Gagliano, C., Glynn, J., & Osgood, R. (2006). A comparison of graphic symbol systems and the performance of typically developing preschool-aged children on the ABLLS-R expressive communication subtest. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 49(6), 1197-1213. doi: 10.1044/1092-4388(2006/087)
- Binger, C., & Light, J. (2007). The effect of aided AAC modeling on the expression of multi-symbol messages by preschoolers who use AAC. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 23(1), 30-43. doi: 10.1080/07434610600816300
In addition to the research supporting generalization across different symbol sets, Smarty Symbols offers a unique advantage in promoting diversity and inclusion. Many symbol sets on the market today offer limited options for character representation and lack modern images that may better resonate with students. Smarty Symbols was designed with diversity and belonging in mind, offering a range of inclusive images that better reflect today’s diverse society. By allowing students to embrace and connect with modern, inclusive images, educators and SLPs can better support their students’ communication development and overall well-being. Ultimately, it is important to choose a symbol set that aligns with your values and promotes the best outcomes for your students.