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Development of Symbolic Communication Bibliography

by DB-LINK on Feb 1, 2013
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This is a partial list of materials on this topic available from the DB-LINK Catalog Database.  If you have additional questions, please contact us via email:

Updated 2/2013


Building Literacy for Students at the Presymbolic and early Symbolic Levels --Downing, June E. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. Teaching Language Arts, Math, and Science to Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities, Diane M. Browder and Fred Spooner (Eds.) (2006) This book chapter looks at literacy from a broad perspective as "ways of learning about and sharing information with others," a view that includes learners of all ability levels. It addresses recommended approaches for introducing literacy activities to students with significant disabilities who may just be beginning to learn about the use of symbols. Topics addressed include life experiences as a basis for literacy, the link between communication and literacy, augmentative communication systems, the importance of high expectations for literacy, making literacy accessible (adapting materials, following a student's interests, offering choices, identifying preferences), making use of natural opportunities for literacy instruction, creating meaningful literacy opportunities, the use of specific instructional strategies, prompt fading procedures, measuring effectiveness, data collection, and the use of a team approach. Publisher's web site:


Emergence of Symbolic Communication in a Deafblind Child : A Case Study --Scott, Susan. Brantford, Ontario: Canadian Deafblind and Rubella Association. 13th DbI World Conference on Deafblindness Conference Proceedings, August 5-10, 2003, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. (2003) This is the text of a workshop presentation given at the 13th DbI World Conference on Deaf-Blindness. The paper describes a case study on the importance of symbolic communication for the child who is deafblind.


Gestures Expressed by Children Who Are Congenitally Deaf-Blind: Topography, Rate, and Function --Bruce, Susan M.; Mann, Allison; Jones, Chelsea; Gavin, Mary. JVIB, October 2007, Volume 101, Number 10, pp. 637-652. (2007) This descriptive study examined the topography, rate, and function of gestures expressed by seven children who are congenitally deaf-blind. Participants expressed a total of 44 conventional and idiosyncratic gestures. They expressed 6–13 communicative functions through gestures and 7 functions through a single type of gesture. They also expressed idiosyncratic gestures and used specific gestures for functions other than those that are typically associated with those gestures.


Hearing: The Determinates of Communication Ability in CHARGE Syndrome --Fussner, Jill; Thelin, James W., Ph.D. Cleveland, OH: Proceedings of the 6th International CHARGE Syndrome Conference, July 25-27th, 2003, Cleveland, OH. (2003) This powerpoint presentation presents research on the development of symbolic language in children with CHARGE Syndrome. Describes a survey and interview used to gather the data, the preliminary results. Describes future work in this area as well. Also available is a CD-ROM containing an audio version of this presentation.


The Impact of Congenital Deafblindness on the Struggle to Symbolism --Bruce, Susan M. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF DISABILITY, DEVELOPMENT AND EDUCATION, vol. 52, #3, September 2005, pp. 233-251. (2005) Most children who are congenitally deafblind are severely delayed in their communication development and many will not achieve symbolic understanding and expression. This article discusses developmental markers cited in the research literature as predictive of or facilitative of the development of symbolism. These markers include the growth toward more abstract representations, the rate of intentional communication, joint attention to objects and others, achievement of abstract play, consonantal and interactive vocalizations, distal gesture, varied early vocabulary and categories, use of varied cues for recall, object permanence, 1:1 correspondence, cause-effect, discrimination skills, and imitation. The impact of congenital deafblindness on the achievement of these milestones, is presented, along with compensatory strategies to support the child's development.


Importance of Shared Communication Forms --Bruce, Susan M. JOURNAL OF VISUAL IMPAIRMENT & BLINDNESS, vol. 97, #2, February 2003, pp. 106-109. (2003) This study addresses the importance of shared communication forms among teachers and children who express themselves at presymbolic to early symbolic levels of communication. It looks at two different classrooms with students who are deaf-blind and the forms of communication used between student and teachers. Looks at how accessible communication was to the students.


Intentional Communication Acts Expressed by Children with Severe Disabilities in High-rate Contexts --Bruce, Susan M.; Vargas, Claudia. AUGMENTATIVE AND ALTERNATIVE COMMUNICATION, December, 2007, vol. 23, #4, pp. 300-311. (2007) The purpose of this study was to identify the rates of communication expressed by 17 children with severe disabilities (7 deaf-blind) in high-rate school contexts while piloting a new coding system used for intentional communication acts (ICAs). The following characteristics were used when coding ICAs as they were expressed in both child-initiated and adult-initiated communicative interactions: joint attention; form of communication; use of pause, persistence, repetition, and repair; expression of pleasure or displeasure when understood or misunderstood; expression of pleasure or displeasure to communication partner's message; and evidence of comprehension. Children communicated 1.7 to 8.0 ICAs per minute in the highest rate contexts. Nine of the 34 high-rate contexts were speech clinical sessions and six were activities that included eating; 30 were familiar activities, and four were novel activities.


The Intersection of the Development of Gestures and Intentionality --Crais, Elizabeth; Douglas, Diane Day; Campbell, Cheryl Cox. JOURNAL OF SPEECH, LANGUAGE, AND HEARING RESEARCH, vol. 47, #3, June 2004, pp. 678-694. (2004) This study examined the development of deictic and representational gestures in 12 typically developing children from 6 to 24 months of age. Gestures were categorized into J. Bruner's (1981) 3 broad (and 8 specific) communicative functions: behavior regulation (i.e., requesting objects, requesting actions, protesting), joint attention (i.e., commenting, requesting information), and social interaction (i.e., representational gestures, attention seeking, social games). Ongoing parental completion of researcher-created gesture recording forms and monthly researcher observational confirmation were used to capture the emergence and consistent use of targeted gestures. Within each specific functional category, a hierarchy of development was documented for the gestures and behaviors used to signal that intent. This study provides rich detail as to the order of emergence of common deictic and representational gestures and their relationship to other preceding and concomitant behaviors that children use to signal their intentions. Furthermore, the results document younger ages of emergence, in comparison with previous studies, for most of the targeted gestures and provide insight into the controversy in the literature regarding the relative emergence of declarative and imperative gestures.


Language and Play in Students with Multiple Disabilities and Visual Impairments or Deaf-Blindness --Pizzo, Lianna; Bruce, Susan M. JOURNAL OF VISUAL IMPAIRMENT AND BLINDNESS, vol. 104, #5, May 2010, pp. 287-297. (2010) This study explored the relationships between play and the development of communication in 11 students (aged 3 to 10 years) with multiple disabilities and visual impairments (5 children) or deaf-blindness (6 children). The parents and teachers of the students were asked to complete the Play Assessment Questionnaire, an observational measure designed to assess play behaviors. The Communication Matrix was used to assess the children's communication skills. The findings indicate that students with higher levels of communication demonstrate more advanced play skills and that the use of play-based assessment and exposure to symbolic play are important instructional considerations.


Prelinguistic Communication Intervention: Birth-to-2 --Stremel-Campbell, Kathleen; Rowland, Charity. TOPICS IN EARLY CHILDHOOD SPECIAL EDUCATION, vol. 7, #2, pp. 49-58. (1987) Suggestions for narrowing the discrepancy between the knowledge base of early communication development and the implementation of effective communication interventions for severely handicapped infants and young children are offered, including strategies for facilitating emerging language development, increasing positive interactions with infants, and improving preservice and inservice professional training.


The Relation Between Gesture and Speech in Congenitally Blind and Sighted Language-Learners. --Iverson, Jana M.; Tencer, Heather L.; Lany, Jill; Goldin-Meadow, Susan. JOURNAL OF NONVERBAL BEHAVIOR, vol. 24, #2, Summer 2000, pp. 105-130. (2000) The aim of this study was to explore the role of vision in early gesturing. Gesture development was examined in 5 congenitally blind and 5 sighted toddlers videotaped longitudinally between the ages of 14 and 28 months in their homes while engaging in free play with a parent or experimenter. All of the blind children were found to produce at least some gestures during the one-word stage of language development. However, gesture production was relatively low among the blind children relative to their sighted peers. Moreover, although blind and sighted children produced the same overall set of gesture types, the distribution of gesture types across categories differed. In addition, blind children used gestures primarily to communicate about objects that were nearby, while sighted children used them for nearby as well as distally located objects. These findings suggest that gesture may play different roles in the language-learning process for sighted and blind children. Nevertheless, they also make it clear that gesture is a robust phenomenon of early communicative development, emerging even in the absence of experience with a visual model.


A Review of Intervention Studies on Teaching AAC to Individuals who are Deaf and Blind --Sigafoos, Jeff; Didden, Robert; Schlosser, Ralf; Green, Vanessa; O’Reilly, Mark; Lancioni, Giulio. JOURNAL OF DEVELOPMENTAL AND PHYSICAL DISABILITIES, February 2008, vol. 20, #1, pp71-99. (2008) We reviewed intervention studies on teaching augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) to deaf–blind individuals. Studies meeting pre-determined inclusion-exclusion criteria were identified through electronic databases and hand searching and were summarized in terms of: (a) participants, (b) AAC mode, (c) target skills, (d) intervention procedures, and (e) main findings. Certainty of evidence was assessed through critical appraisal of each study’s design and methodological rigor. Seventeen studies, comprising 103 participants, were identified. Most participants had combinations of developmental, physical, and sensory impairments. A range of AAC modes were taught, including textures, tangible objects, and line-drawn symbols. Basic requesting skills were the most common intervention targets and these were most often taught using well-established behavioral procedures (e.g., prompting, differential reinforcement). Positive outcomes were reported for 90% of participants, but the evidence for 11 of the 17 studies was inconclusive because of methodological weaknesses. Implications for clinical practice and future research are discussed.


A Socio-Cognitive Approach to How Children with Deafblindness Understand Symbols --Hartmann, Elizabeth. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF DIABILITY, DEVELOPMENT, AND EDUCATION, vol. 59, #2, June 2012, pp. 131-144. (June 2012)Children with congenital deafblindness are a population of learners who may need intervention in order to develop symbolic understanding. They experience a combination of vision and hearing impairments that can affect how they make sense of the world, develop relationships, and understand symbols. In this article, the author reviewed a socio-cognitive framework of symbolic understanding and suggested it as one way to organise the extant research on symbolic development of children with deafblindness. A socio-cognitive framework describes the development of children’s individual skills and how their abilities are supported by active participation in social and cultural experiences. Symbolic understanding is not an isolated cognitive skill, but rather a complex socio-cognitive developmental process that is intimately supported by meaningful interactions. A socio-cognitive framework may help teachers to support the symbolic understanding of school-aged children with deafblindness. Teachers of children with deafblindness can use the framework to understand their students’ individual socio-cognitive abilities and their social interactions. In other words, a socio-cognitive framework may support teachers of children with deafblindness to understand the abilities and environments that are critical to the development of symbolic understanding.


Struggle for Symbolism --Bruce Susan M., Ph.D. Brantford, Ontario: Canadian Deafblind and Rubella Association. 13th DbI World Conference on Deafblindness Conference Proceedings, August 5-10, 2003, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. (2003) This is the text of a workshop presentation given at the 13th DbI World Conference on Deaf-Blindness. The paper presents developmental milestones that have been reported to be facilitative or predictive of symbolic expression. Instructional strategies to support the achievement of these milestones are suggested along with recommendations for future research.


Supporting Communication of Girls with Rett Syndrome and their Mothers in Storybook Reading --Koppenhaver, David A., Erickson, Karen A., Skotko, Brian G. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, Vol. 48, No 4, 2001, pp, 3950410. (2001) This study looks at mother-child storybook reading as a context within which to support early symbolic communication of girls with Rett syndrome. Mothers read familiar and unfamiliar storybook with their daughters and baseline measures was taken. The study suggests that parents can provide substantial support to early communication development if they are provided with basic information and materials.


Tactile Strategies for Children Who Have Visual Impairments and Multiple Disabilities: Promoting Communication and Learning Skills --Chen, Deborah; Downing, June E. New York: AFB Press. (2006) This book is designed to help service providers and family members learn to interact through touch with children who need tactile information to support their learning. The introduction includes a report of focus group findings and the results of research performed with four children during Project SALUTE, a model demonstration project funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Other chapter topics include: the sense of touch, supporting interactions though touch, assessing tactile skills and planning interventions, focusing on tactile strategies, considering multiple communication options, adapting manual signs to meet a child's needs, selecting appropriate tactile strategies, and encouraging emergent literacy. Cost: $39.95. Available from AFB Press. Phone: 800-232-3044. E-mail: There is a also companion video (or DVD) to this book called "Tactile Learning Strategies: Interacting with Children Who Have Visual Impairments and Multiple Disabilities." The contents of the book and video reflect the activities of Project SALUTE, and this book is very similar to a manual published by California State University, Northridge, called "Successful Adaptations for Learning to Use Touch Effectively: Interacting with Children Who Are Deaf-Blind or Visually Impaired and have Additional Disabilities" by Chen, et al. Publisher's web site:


Tangible Symbol Systems: Making the Right to Communicate a Reality for Individuals with Severe Disabilities --Rowland, Charity, Ph.D.; Schweigert, Philip, M.Ed. Design to Learn Products. (2000) This book discusses the use of tangible symbols for communication throughout the day. It is designed to accompany a 75-minute videotape entitled Tangible Symbol Systems. The book summarizes the techniques illustrated in the videotape and provides additional background and technical information as well as data forms to assist in the implementation of these techniques. The background research supporting the use of tangible symbols is briefly described in the introduction. Includes information on tangible symbols, target population, how to gain attention and various levels of representation for two and three-dimensional symbols. Methods of testing comprehension and various ideas for materials and activities to use in learning the use of the symbols are presented as well. Available from Design to Learn, OHSU, Oregon Institute on Disability & Development, 3608 SE Powell Blvd., Portland, OR 97202. Phone: 800-410-7069 (Voice/TTY). E-mail: Publisher's web site:


Tangible Symbol Systems: Making the Right to Communicate a Reality for Individuals with Severe Disabilities --Rowland, Charity, Ph.D.; Schweigert, Philip, M.Ed. Design to Learn Products. (2005) This DVD is meant to accompany the book of the same name. It illustrates communication options for a broad range of individuals of all ages who are unable to communicate through speech or manual signs. The instructional process involved in implementation of a tangible symbol communication system is illustrated. Students with a wide range of severe disabilities (autism, severe cognitive limitations, deafblindness or multiple disabilities) can fiind expressive opportunities using a symbolic system that is meaningful to them. Available from Design to Learn, OHSU, Oregon Institute on Disability & Development, 3608 SE Powell Blvd., Portland, OR 97202. Phone: 800-410-7069 (Voice/TTY). E-mail: Publisher's web site:


Tangible Symbols: Symbolic Communication for Individuals with Multisensory Impairments --Rowland, Charity; Schweigert, Philip. AUGMENTATIVE AND ALTERNATIVE COMMUNICATION (AAC), vol. 5, #4, pp. 226-234. (1989) This article describes a study in which nine deaf-blind students who were not able to acquire abstract symbol systems were taught to use tangible symbols--manipulable symbols (objects or pictures) that bear a clear perceptual relationship to a referent. Many individuals with multisensory impairments fail to bridge the gap between presymbolic communication and formal language systems such as speech or manual signs. A sequence of communication development that accommodates the use of tangible symbols is presented, as well as case studies illustrating the acquisition of tangible symbols by two students. Finally, data on the progress of the nine students in the study is presented.


Tangible Symbols, Tangible Outcomes --Rowland, Charity; Schweigert, Philip. AUGMENTATIVE AND ALTERNATIVE COMMUNICATION, vol. 16, #2, June 2000, pp. 61-78. (2000) This 3-year study on the use of tangible symbols (objects and pictures) by 41 children with a variety severe and multiple disabilities was conducted to follow up on an earlier study by the authors that revealed the utility of tangible symbols for children who are deafblind. The children all had combinations of the following major disabilities: mental retardation (9), developmental delay (32), vision impairment (23), hearing impairment (8), autism (9), orthopedic impairment (23), seizure disorder (8), and medical fragility (6). Seven children had combined vision and hearing impairment plus additional disabilities. All were cognitively delayed. Of the 41 participants, only 6 failed to acquire tangible symbols, demonstrating their usefulness for children with a broad range of abilities. A number of the participants progressed beyond tangible symbols and learned to use abstract symbol systems, including speech. Data describing the progress of participants are presented. Participants are grouped according to outcomes, and the characteristics of each group are discussed in terms of the communication skills of participants as they began intervention. A correction to 2 figures published in a later AAC issue (vol. 16, #3, p. 205) is appended to this article.


Teaching Strategies of the van Dijk Curricular Approach --MacFarland, S. Z. C. JOURNAL OF VISUAL IMPAIRMENT AND BLINDNESS, May-June 1995, pp. 222-228. (1995) The combined loss of vision and hearing affects the learning areas of communication, socialization, conceptualization, and movement. The van Dijk curricular approach addresses these learning areas within the context of teaching children who are deaf-blind. This article presents the major teaching strategies---including coactive movement, sequential memory, and symbolic communication---in implementing the approach.


Textures as Communication Symbols --Murray-Branch, Jamie, M.A., CCC-SLP; Bailey, Brent R., Ph.D. Indiana Department of Education, Division of Special Education Blumberg Center, Indiana State University. (1998) This guidebook is designed to explain the issues related to developing a communication system using textures. The textured symbols described are intended for use by individuals with dual sensory and multiple disabilities. Using distinctive textures, each of which represents a different item, activity, or object, is a way to create a portable communication system which does not require complex materials, expensive equipment or highly specialized training. The booklet includes an introduction to using textures as communication symbols, guidelines for developing a system of textured symbols, and an outline of the four phases of instruction. Appendices provide information on suggested materials and examples. This book accompanies the video, " Textured Communication Symbols: Talking Through Touch."

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