Monday, October 12, 2015

Making Those SymbolStix Pop!

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about optimizing symbolic representations for children who experience difficulty transitioning to two-dimensional symbols. We’ve already discussed in the previous post (09-28-15) how Dual=Representation symbols can be used to help students make that transition by allowing ready-access to the next higher level of representation for the purposes of stimulation. The child is allowed to operate at his current level of representation but is continually stimulated with the next highest level of representation.

I recently discovered that using a program such as Adobe Photoshop, I could apply a drop shadow to the symbols downloaded from the n2y online SymbolStix library. Presented below is a page of 2 inch Dual=Representation supplemental symbols, designed to support the Animated Step-by-Step™ activity, Banana Berry Yogurt Shakes. On the left is the page assembled in the regular way; on the right, a drop shadow has been applied to the symbols to help them stand out from their background cells. The drop shadow does seem to make those symbols pop off the page. Could this be a helpful trick for some children?

Illustrated below is a color-coded SymbolStix communication display designed to mediate the task of hand washing (I often precede Animated Step-by-Step™ cooking activities with a Hand Washing routine).  As you can see, the communication display on the left is constructed in the typical way, i.e., using symbols with no shadows.  The symbols of the communication display on the right have been enhanced with a slight drop shadow. The 'drop shadow symbols' do seem to pop off the page.

I fully appreciate that the drop shadow approach may not be the best strategy for children with severe visual challenges who might benefit more from the symbols on the left (symbols that have good figure-ground contrast and crisp clean lines) or displays with no colored backgrounds but I’m wondering whether children who find two-dimensional images challenging might find the drop shadow version on the right helpful.

As an aside, I’ve always found color-coding helpful when conducting Aided Language Stimulation (ALgS). When the symbols on the display are color-coded, it essentially narrows the Facilitator’s field of search allowing him/her to conduct ALgS more efficiently. The above displays are color-coded according to Goossens’, Crain and Elder (See references). When I wish to communicate the message, “I NEED to PUT my DIRTY WIPIE IN the TRASH,” I’m searching subsets of symbols based on their color code, i.e., I (orange for pronouns, negatives, sound effects) NEED to PUT (pink for verbs) my WIPIE (yellow for nouns) IN (green for prepositions) the TRASH (yellow for nouns).

At this early stage I don’t know whether the addition of a drop shadow is a difference that will make a difference for students who struggle to transition from photographs to picture symbols … but I’m willing to give it a ‘test drive’. If I’ve learned anything from being in the field of Augmentative Communication for a long time, it’s the fact that its all about accumulating a very big ‘bag of tricks’… you never know when that specific trick will come in handy for that specific child.

© 2015 Carol Goossens’, Ph.D.
Augmentative Communication Consultant
Speech-Language Pathologist
Special Educator

© SymbolStix 2015
(used with permission)
PO box 550
Huron OH 44839


Goossens’, C., Crain, S., & Elder, P. (1988a, October) Engineering the preschool classroom environment for interactive symbolic communication. Short course presented at the Fifth Biennial International Conference of the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication : Animations of the mind, Anaheim, CA.

Goossens’, C., Crain, S., & Elder, P. (1988b, October) Engineering the preschool classroom for interactive symbolic communication. Short course presented at the Annual Convention of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Convention, Boston.

Goossens', C. & Crain, S. (1992).  Engineering the preschool environment for interactive symbolic communication: 18 months -5 years developmentally. Birmingham, Alabama: Southeast Augmentative Communication Publications.