The first thing you will want to do, prior to teaching symbols for a communication or visual system, is to identify what Level of Representation an individual can most successful use. See related: How To Identify The Right Symbol To Use When Designing Communication & Visual Support.

Once you have identified the appropriate Level of Representation for an individual you are supporting follow these simple steps for teaching and reinforcing the meaning of the visual representation you are using.

A. FIRST Immediately prior to transitioning to the activity (yes, before you even get there) show and encourage the individual to hold and manipulate the Symbol representing the upcoming activity. This will allow the learner to learn the routine associate the Symbol where to go, how it starts, etc. It also supports anticipation for the new activity, which builds an understanding that although an activity is not present, it can still be discussed and the idea shared.

Each activity and Symbol should have a complete and consistent Activity Routine associated with it: WHERE IT STARTS, THE STEPS INVOLVED and HOW TO KNOW WHEN IT’S OVER/FINISHED. Thinking through this information and teaching it with each Symbol will build independence and initiation skills!

B. Once at the activity location, pair the Symbol to the activity location and activity.

C. THEN AGAIN during the activity, pair the Symbol to the activity again.

Throughout the day, each time the individual does the activity, pair it with the Symbol. You will know when the individual understands the Symbol by their reaction to the Symbol, their face may light up (or show disappointment) or they may move themselves to the activity location you’ve paired with the Symbol- and BINGO! You’ve got yourself a vocabulary word!

Ask yourself (and others closest to the individual):

“What 20 things would this person say/ask for if they could use words to speak?”
Then ask,

“What 20 things would I like this person to say/tell me, if they could use words to speak?”

You may be inclined to begin teaching vocabulary that represents daily activities, Getting Dressed, Washing Hands, Brushing Teeth, Going to Bed, etc. BE CAUTIONED: As this vocabulary will not empower the individual to get his or her needs met and therefore will have less chance of success- initially. Providing and teaching vocabulary that represents the individual’s desires and interests will be much more successful and then can be used in correlation with less desired activities (First Wash Hands THEN Eat!).