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Learning at Home - COVID-19 Symbol Communication Resources

by Gillian McNeill

on Wed Apr 22, 2020

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We are into another week with learners out of school and are hearing of parents of children and young people with additional support needs, seeking resources to use at home. Therefore, in this blog I’d like to focus on symbol resources for learners with communication support needs, to communicate about and around COVID- 19.

How can I support my child to use symbols?

The value of using symbols is that they provide a means for non-verbal children to communicate and participate in their everyday life and learning. In addition, symbols can be used to support a child to understand the language and communication of others. Some children with symbol-based communication in place already have access to the words and language that they need to talk about aspects COVID-19 and how it impacts them. An interesting blog from AssistiveWare suggests ways to use AAC to talk about the coronavirus.

Other children may not have used symbols, simple introductory information for parents from the Widigt website may be useful. Another parent friendly blog from Cardiff Teacher, Sarah Lachlann-Dean, provides information on using symbols at home, which includes a home communication book created with Widgit symbols to download.

For children who do not have access to symbols or the symbols they now need, read on…

Which symbols should I select?

There are 3 main symbols sets most commonly in use throughout the UK, these are:

The CALL Scotland Symbols for All website has information on other symbols, free to use, as well as information on symbol software for creating resources. When choosing a symbol set, we suggest selecting resources from the same symbol set already in use. This consistency will help a child to learn and then use them.

How can I get started with symbols for my child?

This simple 5 step guide is aimed at helping parents to get started:

  • Select pre-made resources - if you cannot or do not wish to make personal resources, select from a variety of pre-made resources. There are many available and our choice of COVID-19 related resources are listed below. There’s also a selection of activity chat boards on Symbols for All – type ‘chat’ into the search box to find them. Pre-made resources are usually in an easily printable PDF file format, but remember that it is still possible to make appropriate adaptions for your child, such as hiding, removing or cutting up symbols should there are too many or not quite the right layout.

  • Create personal resources - if you would like to create personal resources for your child, most symbol software programmes offer free trials, and some have extended the trial period during the COVID-19 period. Some also offer resources that have been shared by other users, which can be downloaded as they are, or edited with the software. It may be worthwhile contacting a Speech & Language Therapist, school staff or key worker with access to the software, to check if they may be able to create and send resources to you. Some software suppliers may be in a position presently to offer help with this too.

  • Print resources or display on tablet or PC - as most symbol resources are intended for printing in colour, remember to select this option before printing out, alternatively if you have a PDF viewer app on tablet or PC this provides a means of viewing a version of a symbol board on-screen.

  • Learning symbols - most symbols require a child first to learn and recognise the appearance, and to learn the meanings behind them. It helps to  chat about the symbols on the board – point to the image and describe what it looks like and what makes that symbol mean that particular thing, point to the word, as you read it aloud. It may help to relate the symbol to things in your child’s own life.

  • Using symbols - help your child to begin using symbols - repeated opportunities to practice and use symbols in activities and games, often helps them with this and to move on to express themselves more fully, such as making choices, sharing feelings and other information.

Where can I find symbol resources?

Here's our list of top resources, although there are many more emerging each day...

Symbols for All (PCS & Widgit) - communication and teaching resources in an accessible format for learners with additional support needs, with information on symbol software and alternative free symbol sets. Also, newly available CALL Scotland Coronavirus chat board download for using with the free SoundingBoard App for iPad (and available as a PDF for printing). This has been made using free ARAASAC symbols and comes with recorded speech messages, it's editable if you wish to make changes.

North Lanarkshire Schools Resources (PCS) - free and varied symbol resources created by a team from North Lanarkshire Schools, accessible through their Glow blog, FaceBook or Twitter.

Tobii Dynavox (PCS) - a large collection of resources for Coronavirus Communication Support, including pintable resources, symbols for communication apps/software and learning materials - 90-day trial of Boardmaker Online for creating resources, 60-day trial of the AAC App Snap Core First and At Home Learning resources. Some symbol resources require you to first sign up for a free ‘Tobii Dynavox’ account.

Smartbox (PCS, SymbolStix & Widgit) - Coronavirus Super Core resources in two formats, electronic (for using within the Grid 3 Super Core vocabulary) and printable symbol grids.

Widgit  - new coronavirus symbols and charts, with free access to Widgit Online symbol software using code: WIDGIT30.

Techcess (SymbolStix) - symbol grids for users of Mind Express software with free 60 day trial available, type corona into the search box to find resources.

Liberator (Clarity) - resources include parent guides, sample lesson plans, communication boards within their AAC Language Lab, which has an extended free trial period of two months. 

AssistiveWare (SymbolStix) - developers of the AAC App Proloquo2Go App, who have provided a temporary license for existing Proloquo2Go users that have lost access due to school closures.

Smarty Symbols - online platform with Smarty Symbols for creating communication and other resources with a free 30-day trial.

News-2-You (SymbolStix) - collection of SymbolStix based resources including pre-made and personal communication options, with free access to SymbolStix PRIME during COVID-19.

ConnectABILITY (PCS) - website of the online community based in (Canada), with a simple free tool to create photo/symbol resources – PCS (limited number).

Tags: aac, symbols, coronavirus, learning at home

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