Gestures and Vocalizations
Gestures are a combination of body movements, facial expressions, eye movements, and postures. Gestures may include yes/no headshakes, pointing, or mime. Vocalizations that are communicative in nature are typically produced by individuals who have trouble with speech. For instance, involuntary sounds such as yelling, moaning, crying, laughing, or yawning. Vocalizations require interpretation by the communication partner.
Gestural codes are another form of nonverbal communication that were developed for use by individuals with communication impairments. Unlike gestures, gestural codes are more formalized and are understood by persons familar with the individual using them. Individuals in nursing homes, hospitals, and residential centers typically used gestural codes for communication purposes. However, gestural codes are generally not used any longer, with the exception of Amer-Ind. Amer-ind is a gestural code used by Native American Indians. The system was developed to allow tribes with different language systems the ability to communicate with one another. Amer-Ind is also a widely known gesture system used with severely disabled individuals.
Manual Sign Systems
Manual sign systems were originally developed for use by the deaf population, however, signing has also been used by individuals with severe communication disorders who are able to hear. One common manual signing system is American Sign Language, or ASL. American Sign Language has its own grammer, linguistic structure, and vocabulary; therefore, it is completely independent from English. ASL consists of fingerspelling, mime/gestures, signs, a spatial system, and ASL word order. Sign language is not universal, different sign languages are used in different countries. For instance, there is a French Sign Language, a Chinese Sign Language, a British Sign Language, etc. None of these sign languages are exactly alike. In fact, only about 10% of the signs in each of these languages are identical.
Manually Coded English has been developed to code English word order, syntax, and grammer. The purpose of using manually coded English instead of American Sign Language is to provide an easier transition from written English to speech. However, manually coded English is slower and does not keep up with spoken English like American Sign Language does. The three most common manually coded English sign systems are Pidgin Signed English, Signed English, and Signing Exact English. Pidgin Signed English is the medium between American Sign Language and Spoken English. It was developed as a result of two different languages attempting to communicate with one another. Therefore, Pidgin Signed English became a mixture of ASL and English Sign. Unlike American Sign Language, Signed English and Signing Exact English do not consist of mime,/gestures, or a spatial system. They do, however, use fingerspelling and signs. Likewise, an English word order system is used instead of an ASL word order system.
Individuals with communication disorders may communicate by pointing to or looking at an object that represents the item they want to communicate about. For instance, if an individual would like to go outside they may point to the door. Problems may arise with this type of communication when the individual points to an object and it means something else. Therefore, it is very important that the communication partner ask a series of yes/no questions to the individual in order to determine exactly what they are saying.
There are many types of two and three-dimensional symbols that may be used to represent an actual object. Photographs, PCS, Rebus symbols, Picsyms, PIC symbols, and Blissymbols are the main types of representational symbols that will be described in the following paragraphs. Some links to related websites are provided to give a more detailed description of the symbol systems.
Regular black and white or color photographs may be used to represent actual objects, activities, locations, verbs and people.
Picture Communication Symbols (PCS)
Simple line drawings are used to represent an object.
A representation of words or syllables by pictures of objects.
Picsyms are a combination of pre-drawn symbols and user-drawn symbols. The idea is to
provide the user an initial symbol set and allow them to draw additional ones to expand their
Sigsymbols incorporate the use of pictographs, ideographs, and manual signs. When
pictographs and ideographs cannot be used to represent an abstract idea, pictures of manual
signs taken from sign language are used.
Pictograph Ideogram Communication Symbols
Pictograph Ideogram Communication (PIC) symbols include pictographs in addition to
ideographs. They are different from the previous symbol systems discussed in that they are
depicted as white symbols on a black background to increase visibility.
Blissymbols consist of pictographic, ideographic, and arbitrary symbols. These symbols provide
rather abstract representations of concepts and are typically understood less than the
pictographic symbols mentioned previously. However, Blissymbols provide a much broader
range of topics and allow the user to expand his or her vocabulary more readily.
Abstract Symbol Systems
Absract symbol systems use symbols that do not suggest their meaning. The most common abstract symbol system is Yerkish lexigrams.
Traditional orthography is the use of written characters to represent a specific linguisitic system such as the English alphabet. The most widely known orthographic symbols are Morse Code and Braille. The following two paragraphs discuss these two systems in more detail.
Morse code, a method of communication, is an international symbol system that represents
letters, numbers, and punctuation marks using a series of dots and dashes. Morse Code is
becoming an increasingly popular input method for individuals with disabilities because it is very
Braille is a tactile symbol system used by individuals with visual impairments to read and write
Combinations of six embossed dots arranged in a cell of two columns make up the Braille
characters. The Braille characters represent letters, words, and parts of words. Like Morse code,
Braille is used internationally, but different countries change the code of the characters to match