How to Make Nonverbal Communication Boards

Nonverbal child writing on piece of paper
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When children are faced with the inability to communicate, their independence and connection to their environment is compromised. If you’re working with a child who is autistic, has a learning disability, is deaf or is a non-English speaker, a nonverbal communication board is a helpful tool to spark understanding and social awareness. Nonverbal communication boards encourage interaction by providing an opportunity for children to express themselves and participate in the decision-making process. Creating a board that maximizes the needs of the child can enhance cognitive learning and increase social development.

1 Getting To Know You

Knowing the capacity of the child you’re working with will help you determine the active purpose for the board. It’s easy to assume a noncommunicative child may not be able to read or write but this is often not the case. As you learn more about the child’s needs, consider the board as an opportunity to bring thoughts and feelings to life. Use a computer or pen and paper to begin the communication process. Ask simple questions about feelings, interests and needs so that you can ascertain what type of board will be most useful. If the child is unable to read, picture boards may be the best choice. Alternatively, boards with letters or words facilitate more complex communication.

2 ABCs

Using an alphabet theme for a noncommunication board helps children who can read begin to interact and engage in dialogue with others. Place the letters of the alphabet on a board. Use a large-point font so that the letters are easily recognized from a distance. Be sure to leave enough space between each letter so that the child can point to a specific letter with ease. Organize the letters by vowels and consonants or in alphabetical order. Encourage the child to use the alphabet board to spell out words and build a communication process with a partner.

3 A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

A picture board helps noncommunicative children express their needs. Determine the things that are most important to the child and add in basic function requests. For example, attach pictures of a bed, toilet, food, bathtub, book, television or crayons. Encourage the child to point to the picture that represents something they need or want. You can build a second picture board that uses phrases or words as a way to expand interaction and dialogue. For example, put action verbs on one side of the board, nouns in the middle and short phrases on the other side. Add a yes and no word at the bottom of the board.

4 Emergency!

In an urgent situation, a noncommunication board may be used to provide direction or indicate help and support. This type of board has symbols, words and pictures that help first responders communicate with nonverbal individuals. Use pictures that prompt questions or directions like "here to help," "lie down" or "point to where it hurts." Nonspeaking individuals can use the board to communicate needs or understand what is happening in time of crisis.

Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years. She has numerous publications with Talico, Inc., DynaTEAM Consulting, Inc. and Kinect Education Group.