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Communication Boards for Autistic Children

Communication Boards for Autistic Children

Picture a child who has many ideas but struggles to communicate them due to autism. This situation is a daily reality for numerous autistic children. Thankfully, an autism communication board can make these challenges easier.

We often think of communication as just words or phrases, but it’s a little more complex than that. In fact, the more people learn to communicate non-verbally, the better their verbal skills will be. However, people with autism often struggle with both nonverbal and verbal communication.

Their journey with limited communication skills is often filled with hurdles. Yet, an autism communication board serves as a crucial aid for speech, giving children with autism access to expression.

What is an autism communication board?

An autism communication board is a specialized tool created to aid individuals who struggle with verbal communication. Rather than relying solely on spoken words, it uses pictures and symbols to convey messages and express thoughts.

This visual approach allows children to express their needs, thoughts, and feelings by pointing to or indicating specific images. This method of communication is especially helpful for those who are nonverbal or have limited speech capabilities, providing them with an alternative way to communicate and interact with the world around them.

Types of communication boards

There are two types of communication boards that point to enhanced verbal abilities:

  • Manual or basic communication boards
  • Augmentative or alternative boards

Manual or basic AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) technology boards utilize graphic symbols or picture cards to help adults teach language skills to children with autism. They are particularly useful for addressing immediate needs and making simple requests.

On the other hand, augmentative or alternative boards allow users to construct sentences and work with more complex language structures, significantly enhancing their functional communication abilities. An example of such a board is a speech development app installed on a smartphone.

The connection between communication boards and autism

Communication boards are particularly beneficial for individuals with autism due to their visual nature. Many autistic individuals experience challenges with verbal communication, finding it difficult to express their thoughts and needs effectively through spoken language. 

For example, some may point to a cookie if they want one but cannot verbalize their request.

Additionally, autistic individuals often have difficulties with auditory processing, so visual tools can help bypass these challenges. Visual support can also provide a concrete and consistent way to communicate, which can be reassuring and reduce anxiety in social interactions.

For example, a parent can create a visual schedule of what the child can expect throughout the day to limit anxiety related to change or routine disruptions.

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Benefits of a communication board

Communication boards help reduce communication barriers for children with autism by providing visual aids, like pictures and symbols, which are often easier for them to understand and use compared to spoken language. This visual method of communication is especially beneficial for those who have difficulty processing verbal cues.

To promote independence, these boards allow children to express their needs and desires without relying on others to interpret their verbal communication. This can be empowering, giving them a sense of control over their environment and interactions.

As for enhancing social interactions, communication boards can serve as a bridge to more effective social engagement. By facilitating clearer expression of thoughts and emotions, these tools help autistic children interact more successfully with their peers and adults. This can lead to improved relationships and a better understanding of social cues and responses.

How to use a communication board

Introducing and effectively using a communication board for a child with autism can be a gradual and rewarding process. Here are some practical steps and considerations on how to use a communication board:

  • Start simple

Begin with basic symbols or images that represent the everyday needs and interests of the child. This could include pictures of food, drink, favorite toys, or common activities. These should be easily recognizable to the child.

  • Use consistently

Make the communication board a consistent part of the child’s daily routine. Use it during regular activities, such as meal times, play times, and other daily routines, to make communication a natural part of their day.

  • Involve the child

Engage the child in choosing the symbols or pictures to be added to the board. This involvement can increase their interest and investment in using the board.

  • Progress gradually

As the child becomes more familiar with the board, gradually introduce more complex concepts and a broader vocabulary. This can include emotions, requests, or more abstract ideas.

  • Use modeling and encouragement

Parents and educators should model the use of the communication board by pointing to symbols while speaking. Encourage the child to use the board to express their needs and thoughts.

An autism communication board
  • Incorporate interactive learning

Incorporate the communication board into interactive activities, like storytelling, games, or classroom lessons, to make the learning process more engaging.

  • Take feedback and adapt

Pay attention to the child’s responses and adapt the board as needed. This could involve rearranging the layout, updating the symbols, or introducing new concepts based on the child’s changing needs and abilities.

  • Use positive reinforcement

Provide positive reinforcement and encouragement when the child successfully uses the board. This can help build their confidence and motivation to communicate.

  • Use it in various settings

Ensure that the communication board is available and utilized in different environments, such as at home, in school, and in other social settings, to provide consistent and comprehensive support for the child’s communication needs.

  • Collaborate with professionals

Work with speech therapists, teachers, and other professionals who can offer guidance and suggestions for effectively using the communication board.

Empowering communication and growth

Enhancing communication and growth through the use of communication boards for autistic individuals is a transformative process.

For autistic children, communication boards can be a gateway to greater engagement in community life, fostering stronger bonds and deeper relationships. The consistent use of these boards nurtures a sense of participation and inclusion, allowing autistic individuals to convey their unique perspectives and feelings effectively.

This advancement in communication skills not only aids in their social interactions but also significantly contributes to their emotional and psychological development, enhancing their overall quality of life.

Remember, every child is unique, so it’s important to tailor these steps to fit the individual needs and abilities of the child. Patience and persistence are key in making the communication board a successful tool for enhancing communication.


Q: How does a communication board work?

A: Communication boards use pictures and symbols representing words and concepts. Particularly useful for children with autism, users express their needs and thoughts by pointing to these images, enabling communication without sole reliance on spoken language.

Q: How effective are communication boards?

A: The effectiveness of communication boards lies in their ability to increase communication frequency and ease, especially for those who are minimally verbal. However, their impact on social communication varies and may require additional research.

Q: How can you customize a communication board?

A: Customization of a communication board is essential, starting with simple images and progressively including more complex concepts and vocabulary. This customization should reflect the individual’s interests, daily activities, and language development.

Q: What are the disadvantages of using communication boards?

A: While communication boards offer significant benefits, they have limitations. They may not profoundly impact social communication and require consistent and structured use. Additionally, their effectiveness depends on the commitment of caregivers and educators in integrating them into daily routines.


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