Symbols are not babyish

Let’s start a rant.  Symbols are gotten rid of for middle and high school classrooms (especially “high-functioning” rooms).  People stare at all the symbols I put in my home. Using symbol based AAC as an adult gets a drastically different response than text based.  Parents say that their children type to communicate because their child is “smart”, and “I won’t baby my child”. *

Somehow “visual learners” disappear once they hit puberty, I guess.  Or people say that the written material is visual support. Not that it isn’t, but often not the best.  Most text looks the same, except for sight words. Lots of text is visually busy, and lots of people don’t process language well during sensory overload, shutdown, or meltdown.  Since “behavior” classrooms often have kids without significant intellectual disability, they can be some of the worst offenders for this one. If your only symbols are on star charts for rewards, seriously consider what you’re doing, please.

My fiance(e)** and I are in our twenties.  We have both completed bachelor’s degrees and plan to attend or are already accepted to graduate programs.  Symbols are our saviors. My ADHD partner needs everything in our house to be in sight, or “out of sight, out of mind” kicks in hard.  We both need a visually calm environment. It is not possible to have all the stuff visually available and not get overwhelmed.  Instead we cover bookshelves with curtains (it’s awesome; you should try it) and put symbols on them to tell us the contents.  It’s three years into living together and we’ve finally learned that labelling EVERYTHING is not just a great outlet for my organizing obsession, but legitimately helpful as long as it’s not text based.  Guess what? Text based is basically useless for us.

-unfortunately useless stuff in our house-

-useful stuff in our house-

I like PCS/boardmaker symbols because they are often more visually distinct from one another, but try symbolstix if boardmaker is too colorful.  Real pictures can help if someone already has the idea that symbols are babyish, or if there’s really specific stuff in a cabinet or something (a favorite plate or cup comes to mind, as does preferred food items).  Also if your older students are going to get teased by typical peers 😦

My beloved label maker has sat unused for months, and the laminator and color printer barely get a chance to cool down.

-ironically laminated symbol-

We’re moving next month, but I have big plans for showing off our visually clean and ridiculously labeled new apartment, once I get there.

For a classroom, consider connecting with non-special-ed teachers and looping them into using more symbols for their visual learns as well.  No better way to keep things from seeming babyish than to get everyone involved.

*typing and non-symbol based AAC can be a great choice, but if you call symbols babyish or for less smart people, I’m highly suspicious that your kid prefers it because of you.  Unless you’re already a fast typer, learning a symbol or button based system with 1-3 hits for each word is going to be faster in the end than learning to type, because most words are longer than 3 letters.

Also, don’t you dare not teach literacy just because I’m saying symbols are good.


**feel free to let me know if you have a better way of spelling this with a nonbinary partner 

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