The Autism Society Event and Education Recordings Archive

Use this site to access recordings and presentations from National Conferences

Autism Society records most keynote and concurrent sessions at their annual conferences. You can see and hear those recordings by purchasing full online access, or individual recordings.

5654 Situational Communication Boards for Nonverbal Students with Autism

Friday, July 8, 2011: 3:15 PM-4:30 PM
Captiva 1&2 (Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center)
The communication differences of students with autism spectrum disorders present a unique challenge to professionals in educational settings. Situational communication boards provide professionals and students with simplified access to critically important communication tools that are easy to create, organize, access and maintain. Session participants will learn how to create and utilize situational communication boards for students of all ages in the school environment using tools that range from simple pictures and household items to high-tech augmentative and alternative devices. Students with autism spectrum and similar disorders have unique communication differences that often present logistical challenges to professionals in school settings. These differences are amplified when students’ primary means of communication are nonverbal. Professionals who work with these students recognize the critical importance of providing communication support across all settings in a functional manner, but often find it difficult to manage the needs of each student when multiple students in a classroom setting have varying communication support needs.

It is widely accepted and understood that effectively integrating augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) into students’ daily activities in interactive ways increases the probability that students will use communication supports as part of their spontaneous communication. In addition, it is understood that opportunities for communication are most effective when they occur during functional situations, when the communication act has intrinsic value for students, and when the amount of control and connection the students have in the communicative interaction is motivating. The logical extension of this understanding is the development of tools that allow professionals to address these unique communication differences in a manner that is both beneficial for students and manageable for school support staff. Logistically speaking, these supports can be provided to nonverbal students through the use of situational communication boards.  Situational communication boards can be created using both low-tech and high-tech methodologies, and can be integrated across a wide array of school activities and environments.

Situational communication boards are communication boards that relate to specific activities or settings within a more generalized setting. These boards take into account the skill level and interests of multiple students and are designed to contain communication targets that are appropriate to the specific activity.  Selecting appropriate communication targets for situational communication boards involves planning to allow students to make requests, understand directives, make comments, ask questions, use social greetings and make refusals that are appropriate to the situation.  For example, a situational communication board for a preschool snack center may include communication targets such as: “I want" ("a pretzel,” “cereal,” “a fruit snack,” “juice,” “more”), “I like this,” “I don’t like this,” “I’m all done,” etc. A situational communication board for a middle-school science lab may include communication targets such as: “I need … (materials),” “I need help,” “that’s cool,” “what are you doing?,” etc. 

Situational communication boards should be created in a way that not only allow students to create messages that satisfy adults in the school setting, but allow students to create messages that they wish to convey, such as socially and age-appropriate peer messages. An often overlooked communication target for these situational boards is age-appropriate social commenting. This may involve using phrases and terminology that are often considered “jargon” by school staff, but that are necessary for students to communicate and develop meaningful relationships with their peers. Sample phrases and comments for younger students may include: “that’s gross,” “that’s not fair,” “cool,” “he/she took my…,” “I don’t want to,” “I’m first,” etc. Sample phrases and comments for older students may include: “that sucks,” “no way,” “what’s up,” “he’s/she’s cute,” “sweet,” etc.

Situational communication boards can be produced from a wide range of materials that can include tangible symbol and object pictures mounted to file folders or other portable surfaces (foam boards, plastic cutting boards, etc.) to sophisticated displays accessed through computers or a dynamic communication system.  Once a situational communication board is completed for a specific activity or setting, it should be placed in the setting for easy access by students and professionals. 

Throughout the presentation, participants will be exposed to multiple examples of situational communication boards that showcase several student communication levels in a variety of settings using varied materials and technology levels. Participants will learn the importance of not creating arbitrary rules regarding the appearance of situational communication boards, and will be encouraged to use the information they possess regarding the strengths and desires of the students they support to create situational communication boards that meet those students’ needs. Emphasis will be placed on creating and implementing situational communication boards that allow students to make requests and engage in social commenting during activities throughout the school environment.

Learning Objectives:

  • Participants will learn how to create situational communication boards for nonverbal students with autism.
  • Participant will learn how to implement situational communication boards in the educational setting.

Content Area: Communication


Kendra A. Turner, M.Ed.
Special Education Consultant
Real Autism Solutions

Kendra Turner is a special education consultant and the founder of Real Autism Solutions. Kendra specializes in program design and professional development. She shares practical and effective strategies for autism education on the Real Autism Solutions blog. In addition to her professional experience, Kendra has an adult sibling with autism.

Krista Smith, M.S., CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist
Real Autism Solutions

Krista Smith M.S., CCC-SLP, has worked with children and adolescents with autism for the last 10 years. In addition to her active caseload, Krista is co-contributor to the REAL Autism blog, which provides real-world information and strategies for working with children and adolescents with autism.