Messages Now

A talk bubble with a magnifying glass

What do we know about communication?

  • Everyone communicates, but not everyone can speak
  • Someone may not speak well enough to meet their needs, but they still communicate
  • If we know exactly how someone communicates, they can be understood

What does this person use to communicate?

  • Speech?
  • Communication device?
  • Pictures?
  • Signs or gestures?
  • Body language or facial expressions?
  • Sounds or movements?
  • Other ways?


Communication Inventory (Example)

Communication Method    Y/N           Level                When used                  Example

Speech Y One word at a time Naming Marvel characters


Communication Device N n/a n/a



Pictures Y Points Movie choices



Point to picture of “Spiderman”
Signs or Gestures Y Single signs


Wants to eat



Sign for “eat”, “cookie”, “pizza”
Body language or facial expression Y Waves, Smiles, Frowns Greeting, Expressing emotions Waves and smiles when happy


Sounds or movements Y Hums; Pulls someone’s arm When a favorite item is out of reach Starts humming and pulls others to the location of an item
Other N n/a n/a





Most people use a combination of different ways to communicate

  • We all use multiple ways to communicate, such as speech, body language, email, gestures, facial expressions.
  • Waving to someone across a noisy room may be more effective than talking
  • “Successful communication strikes a balance of being: effective, most efficient, and socially appropriate” (Tabi Jones Wohleber)


Print Materials

Alt image for concept handout

Related Videos

This is a short video ‘collage’ showing a number of people using different forms of AAC.

Deepen Your Understanding

The Communication Matrix lists nine categories of communicative behavior (C. Rowland, Communication Matrix)
• Body movements
• Sounds
• Facial Expressions
• Visual
• Simple Gestures
• Conventional Gestures & Vocalizations
• Concrete Symbols
• Abstract Symbols
• Language

Body Language

Do you need to “read” their body language and facial expressions? They may not be using words, but they are communicating. Some people use their bodies to intentionally communicate how they are feeling. We can take our best guess at what they need. It is helpful to recognize if certain behaviors occur in specific contexts. That will help us to understand their meaning.


Does the person use some signs? If they are signing, they are using words. These signs “represent” meaning, just like spoken words do. It doesn’t matter if the signs are perfect. The person is still using words to communicate with intent. Those who know the person best will know what the signs mean.


Does the person point to photos in a magazine? Or in the supermarket flyer? They are using symbols, too. They understand that those pictures represent the activities or objects. 

What is the person using now? Is it adequate to meet all of their communication needs? Can they communicate with people out in the community? If the answer is no, we can look at matching them with an AAC system. This will help expand their communication. It will also help them communicate with a greater range of people.


The quickest and most effective way to communicate is with speech. But the ability to speak clearly relies on a number of underlying issues that the person may not be able to control.