Choice-making is one of the first communication functions we learn.  For students using AAC, we often use choice-making to ensure they are motivated to communicate.  There are many different choices students can make throughout the day.  The most commonly offered choices at school include lunch, snack choices; and leisure choices.  Food and fun are certainly motivating reasons to communicate, but don't forget you can empower students by offering other less obvious options throughout their day.  They can choose who to sit beside, who to play with, what classroom job they want for the day. Students can chose what topic they want to read about in their self-selected book, what task they want to begin with,  what they want to do on the playground.  Don't forget they can choose where they want to work (desk, floor, beanbag!).  

Choice-making is easy to present to students. You simply have to present the choice using symbols that make sense to them.  For some students, actual object choices may be the best option.  Remember though, if the student is choosing between one actual object and another, that is not symbolic communication.  For object choices to be symbolic, the objects must "represent" the item being selected.  You will choose a representative object to symbolize the items being chosen.  You may offer a spoon to represent "pudding" and an empty Goldfish bag to represent "Goldfish."  Although it may be tempting to assume a student needing object symbols is functioning at a more "emergent" level of communication, it could actually be needed for a variety of reasons:

  • Vision Challenges:  Student may have cortical visual impairment, having difficulty processing the information the eye is transmitting to the brain.  They may have a visual acuity challenge, having a difference in the mechanics or physical operation of the structures of the eye.  When vision is impaired, students need to be able to touch symbols which are physically distinct from each other.
  • Symbolic Understanding Differences:  Student may be in emerging stages of understanding symbolism- that one thing can represent another.  In these early stages, it may be more "iconic" to use a 3 dimensional symbol which is closely related in appearance, is a part/component of the item being offered or shares other physical characteristics (tactile-the way something "feels"). Students with Autism may experience these challenges as they first learn symbolic communication, but they may progress quickly to other less tangible symbols.  Don't get stuck at this level! You'll want to begin pairing these actual objects with photos/symbols to help your student begin to associate more general symbols with their choices.

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Development Resources

Learning Resources for supporting communication for students with visual impairment:

​General Learning Resources for Choice-Making with Symbols, Photos and Objects


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