Skip to content

Use of Concrete Symbols

Symbolic expression makes it possible to express thoughts and feelings about the future, as well as experiences that have already happened. It frees individuals from having to communicate only about things that are happening in the here and now. (NCDB, 2008)

A symbol is something that stands for or represents a person, object, place, activity, or concept. Language, for example, involves the use of symbols in the form of written, spoken, or signed words. These types of symbols are abstract, meaning that there is no obvious relationship between a symbol and what it represents (e.g., the word "dog" does not look or sound or feel like a dog).               

Symbols can also be concrete, which means they do have an obvious relationship to what they represent. A spoon might mean "time for breakfast." Concrete symbols include symbolic gestures, symbolic vocalizations, and tangible symbols (objects or pictures). Their use builds on presymbolic communication skills.

See also:

The Communication Matrix is a free, online tool for assessing communication skills. It can be used to determine an individual's readiness for symbolic communication.

Go to Communication Matrix

This video of Brianna begins when she is at the concrete symbolic stage of communication development. It shows how over the years her educators helped her build on that foundation to develop language.

Learn More

Tangible Symbol Systems Primer

Using Tactile Symbols to Enhance Communication (Video from TSBVI)

Tactile Symbols (Video from TSBVI)

Progressing From Non-Symbolic to Symbolic Communication and Complex Language (OHOA Module)

Offline Resources

Manual: Rowland, C., & Schweigert, P. (2000). Tangible symbol systems: Making the right to communicate a reality for individuals with severe disabilities. Design to Learn.

Article: Hartmann, E. S. (2012). A socio-cognitive approach to how children with deafblindness understand symbols. International Journal of Disability, Development, and Education, 59(2), 131-144.

References

NCDB (National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness). (2008). Practice perspectives: The path to symbolism

Rowland, C., & Schweigert, P. (2000). Tangible symbol systems: Making the right to communicate a reality for individuals with severe disabilities, pp. 5-7. Design to Learn.