It’s time to heat up your laminators and get your hole-punches ready…. We’re talking communication books today!
I love high-tech communication aids as much as the next Speech and Language Therapist but I still find it hard to beat a ‘no-tech’ communication book; it doesn’t run out of battery and even when it’s looking a bit tired and tattered, there’s that satisfying feeling of knowing it’s been well used!
If you have made a communication book before, you will know it is no mean feat…There’s a lot to consider before you even get to the ‘production stage’.
As someone who has made quite a number of communication books, I have found that there are a few general ideas that seem to contribute to putting together a top class communication book! So here are a few points to consider:
Most people who know me would probably say I can be a little disorganised. Now the problem with that is that I can’t always find things when I need them…
Why am I telling you this?! Well, our children need to be able to find what they want to say in their communication book as easily as possible…And the only way to do this is by having an organised system.
I view communication books as having 3 main organisational systems. Here are some pros and cons to each system:
- Category based-The contents page is organised in terms of categories e.g. food, people, feelings, etc.
Pro: This can be useful for children who are verbal but need something to supplement their speech, providing a bit of context. It’s also a very simple, easily understood format for children who may struggle to navigate through a communication book.
Con: It can limit what a child can communicate about, making it difficult for conversation to ‘flow’.
- Socially focused- This type of communication book focuses on 2-way conversation, encouraging the communication partner to also use the book to communicate with the child providing aided language input. You may have heard of PODD books (Pragmatic Organisation of Dynamic Display…Thanks goodness for the acronym!!) which are the gold standard for socially organised communication books! They have topic ‘branches’ that enable the child to expand on their message.
You can read more about PODD here: https://www.novita.org.au/equipment/podd-communication-books/
You can also find PODD book templates on Boardmaker Online by simply typing ‘PODD’ into search!
Pro: PODD books are an amazing way for a child to have a proper, flowing conversation, adding rich detail. Following the ‘branches’ in the book helps the child to develop a motor plan as to where certain vocabulary is stored.
Con: Parents and school staff are sometimes initially overwhelmed when they see a PODD book- they are big and may look complicated. But with a bit of practice, it soon becomes easy to navigate!
- Pull-out tabs-Some communication books offer constant access to the same core vocabulary with a pull out tab that can be used with every page of the book. This also frees up space for more vocabulary on the pages!
Pro: Important words are always available and are always in the same place!
Con: It can be a little fiddly and it may be tricky for the child to initially get used to using the page and the pull out-tab. But the consistency of having the same words to hand, helps the child to soon over-come that hurdle!
It doesn’t matter what system you opt for, so long as it is clearly laid out, accessible for the child and frequently modelled, the book will be a success!
2. Sentence Building with colour coding
Imagine a child using a communication book that only gave them access to nouns. Their food page might have symbols for chocolate, yoghurt, banana, toast, juice, apple, etc.
How would the child tell you that they didn’t want their yoghurt? Or that they liked their juice and wanted some more? Or that their apple had rolled off the table and fallen on to the floor?!
They just couldn’t! That’s why we need to consider giving our children access to a wide range of vocabulary on each page, enabling them to build sentences.
To support sentence building, there are some very clever colour-coding strategies that help children to visually see the building blocks of a sentence. One of the most popular methods is known as the Fitzgerald Key. Different types of words are represented by different colours. This helps the child to understand the function of words and how they fit together to make sentences.
I also like to lay the page out in a logical order, so that common sentence starters are in the first few columns, followed by verbs and/or adjectives in the next columns and then finally, nouns towards the right hand side of the page. This visually helps the child to understand the structure of a sentence.
It’s important that the child identifies the book as being ‘theirs’. The more personalised, the better! Add photos of important people, places; Google images of favourite TV shows, frequently visited fast food restaurants, etc.
It’s also useful to have the child’s picture at the front of the book and a message from them about how to support them to use their book e.g. “Hi, I’m Becca! This is my communication book. Help me to use it by flipping to the page that I point to…..”, etc.
- Protecting the book!
So you’ve spent an entire day, printing, laminating, hole punching….The last thing you’d want would be for pages to be torn and dog-eared within a few weeks! Communication books are precious! We need to ensure that they are given the respect they deserve!
And for me, the best way to do this is to purchase a sturdy binder…. I love, love, LOVE these purpose made communication book binders from Ability World: http://www.ability-world.com/podd–communication-book-binder-a4—rigid-covers-4475-p.asp
They come in a variety of designs and they are flexible so pages can be flicked through easily. They might be a bit pricier than a lever arch file but they are much more user friendly which is of high importance for communication book users!
So there you have it- the golden rules that I follow each time I make a communication book!
While it may be time consuming and laborious at times, the results of a well designed communication book are worth the effort. Let’s make great communication books that our children are excited to use!
Right, I’m off to do some more laminating….!!