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Tuesday 21 Nov 2017

3 ways to organize symbols in the home and classroom environments

Article by Stephanie Ekis, M.S., CCC-SLP
Visual supports, such as photographs and Picture Communication Symbols (PCS), have been found to be very beneficial for individuals with autism (Shane 2006).  Visual supports are those things that we can see that can support:

  • Organization (e.g., calendars and schedules)
  • Communication (e.g., books and boards)
  • Learning (e.g., vocabulary for instruction)
  • Positive behavior (e.g., classroom rules)
  • Independence (e.g., washing hands sequence)


With advancements in technology, symbols are more accessible than ever.  Even with these advancements, we still need to use low-tech forms to meet the daily needs of children with communication challenges from time to time.  When using picture symbols in the home or classroom, it can become overwhelming trying to keep all of the symbols organized and easily available.  You have probably experienced missed teaching opportunities because you couldn’t find or didn’t have access to the picture symbols you needed at the right time.  Use the tips below to get your symbols organized for the new year!

Tip 1:  Identify the symbols you need and put them in the location where they will most likely be used.

The best way to ensure that communication symbols and boards are available when you need them is to put them in the area where they would most likely be used.  Part of the preparation process is to complete an inventory of all of the vocabulary that will be needed to participate in daily activities and then create the boards or individual symbols needed.  Symbols might need to be place in the following areas


  • Inside or outside of cabinet doors
  • Kitchen
  • Refrigerator door
  • Bathroom
  • Computer area
  • Snack area
  • Bookshelf
  • Backseat of the car

Tip 2: Make sure that you save electronic copies of all of your communication boards.

If you are using a software program to create your symbols and communication boards, make sure that you save them on your computer in case you need them later.  Even well laminated symbols sometimes need to be replaced.  Don’t forget to create a filing system and naming strategy on your computer so that the boards are easy to retrieve.

Tip 3: Find a storage system that works best for you to keep symbols organized.
It is better to invest the time upfront to organize your symbols or you run the risk of having a bunch of unused symbols lying about. The biggest risk is that you student or child will not have the tools they need in order to be an effective communicator. Index card boxes, baseball card pockets, photo storage boxes and small filing drawers are all great options. The sky is the limit! Get creative.

Pocketed Sheet Protectors can be used in binders for easy storage and can hold 2” square symbols.  Organize symbols by category or alphabetically.

Expandable files can hold a lot of symbols and is easily portable.  If organizing symbols in a classroom, use your curriculum as a guide.  Create the symbols you need for each lesson or theme.  At the end of the lesson, return the symbols to the file and they will be ready for you next year when you teach the lesson again.

Velcro is a wonderful thing and can be used as an organization tool.  Velcro is great to add to the inside or outside of cabinets so that symbols can be securely displayed or stored.

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