The Communication Matrix

The Communication Matrix is a free web-based tool for those who conduct five or fewer assessments per year (as of July 2020, they charge a minimal fee for greater than five annual assessments). It measures the skills of beginning communicators. It helps us set goals for those who need AAC.

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The Communication Matrix (CM) has created a free, web-based assessment tool. It helps caregivers understand their client’s communication skills. The CM helps measure the needs of anyone functioning in the early stages of communication. It can be used to support people using AAC.

The CM allows you to track progress and set goals. This tool is free for everyone to use. The website is available in many languages. The website has a Community Forum. This is a networking resource for anyone who supports someone with a severe communication disorder.

What is the Communication Matrix?

The Communication Matrix is designed to show you exactly how a person is communicating now.

Although it was designed for children, the concepts are useful when supporting an adult person with complex needs. It may give you an idea of logical communication goals for the people we support.

It was first published in 1990 and was revised in 1996 by Dr. Charity Rowland of Oregon Health & Science University. For more information go to The Communication Matrix.

This parent version was designed to be more “user-friendly”. The Matrix results are summarized on a one-page Profile. The Profile is a matrix that shows you
at a glance what level of communication behaviors the person is using and what kinds of messages he or she expresses. The Profile is exactly the same as the profile generated by the professional version of the Matrix. That means that parents and professionals can both use the same form to show each other how a child is communicating at home and at school.

Seven Levels of Communication

The Matrix is further organized into seven levels of communicative behavior, represented by the seven rows on the Profile. These Levels are:

I. Pre-Intentional Behavior

The child’s behavior is not under his own control – but it reflects his general state (such as hungry or wet or sleepy). Parents interpret the child’s state from his general behaviors, such as body movements, facial expressions, and sounds.

II. Intentional Behavior

The child’s behavior is now intentional (under the child’s control), but she does not
understand that “If I do this, Mom or Dad will do that for me” – in other words, she does not communicate intentionally yet. Parents continue to interpret the child’s needs and desires from her behavior, such as body movements, facial expressions, vocalizations, and eye gaze.


III. Unconventional Communication

The child uses pre-symbolic behaviors intentionally to express his needs and desires to other people. The behaviors used to communicate are pre-symbolic because they do not involve any sort of symbol. They are called “unconventional” because they are not socially acceptable for us to use as we grow older: they include body movements,
vocalizations, facial expressions and simple gestures (such as tugging on people).

IV. Conventional Communication

The child uses pre-symbolic behaviors intentionally to express her needs and desires to other people. The behaviors used to communicate are pre-symbolic because they do not involve any sort of symbol. “Conventional” gestures include behaviors such as
pointing and nodding the head “yes”. The meanings of these gestures are determined
by the specific culture in which they are used. We continue to use conventional gestures.


V. Concrete Symbols

The child uses what we call “concrete” symbols that physically resemble what they represent in a way that is obvious to the child—they look like, feel like, move like or sound like what they represent. Concrete symbols include picture symbols, objects used as symbols (such as a shoelace to represent “shoe”), certain “iconic” gestures (such as patting a chair to say “sit down”) and sounds (such as making a buzzing sound to refer to a bee). Children with severe physical impairments may access picture and object symbols through the use of a mechanical device or by pointing, touching or eye gaze. Note that children who are already able to use abstract symbols (Level VI) do not need to use concrete symbols: most children skip this stage. For some children who have not learned to use abstract symbols, however, concrete symbols (Level V) may serve as a bridge to using abstract symbols (Level VI).

VI. Abstract Symbols

The child uses abstract symbols such as speech, manual signs, or Brailled or written
words. These symbols are NOT physically similar to what they represent. They are used one at a time.

VII. Language

The child combines symbols (any sort of symbols) into ordered two- or three-symbol
combinations (“want juice”, “me go out”), according to grammatical rules. The child
understands that the meaning of word combinations may differ depending upon how
the symbols are arranged.

Extracted From:
Charity Rowland