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Explaining the world of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) can seem overwhelming, especially when it comes to the various symbols systems used. When developing a communication board, like one that would be used on playgrounds or pools, having a more clear understanding of the different symbol systems is key. In this week’s blog we will take a deeper look into some of the symbols systems. 

What is a symbol system?

A symbol system is a collection of pictures or symbols, with each symbol representing a word or an idea. Some symbol systems use simple pictures, like cartoons, while others use more detailed drawings. These symbols help people who use AAC devices communicate with others and express themselves in a way that works best for them.

More commonly used symbol systems:


    1. Developed by News-2-You, SymbolStix is a dynamic symbol set designed to support individuals with diverse communication needs.
    2. Characterized by their abstract and simplistic style, SymbolStix symbols are easy to interpret and suitable for a wide range of users.
    3. They are highly versatile and can be easily customized to suit individual preferences and communication goals, particularly for those who benefit from clear, uncluttered visual supports.


    1. Developed by Mayer-Johnson, Boardmaker is a comprehensive symbol set and software program widely used in AAC.
    2. Boardmaker symbols are known for their detailed and realistic representations, making them highly effective for conveying complex concepts and ideas.
    3. The software allows for the creation of communication boards, schedules, and other visual supports tailored to individual needs. Boardmaker symbols are ideal for individuals who require more specific and detailed visual representations to support their communication.

 Picture Communication Symbols (PCS):

    1. Developed by Mayer-Johnson, PCS is a widely used symbol set.
    2. These symbols are simple, colorful, and easy to understand, making them ideal for individuals with communication difficulties.
    3. PCS covers a wide range of concepts, actions, and objects, allowing for versatile communication.

Widget Symbol Set:

    1. The Widget Symbol Set offers a range of symbols designed for ease of use and clarity.
    2. Ideal for individuals who benefit from straightforward and intuitive communication aids, Widget symbols can be easily incorporated into communication devices and visual supports.

Making a choice as to which system to use:

The choice depends on the individual’s communication abilities and preferences, with attention given to their vision and visual processing. For example, SymbolStix is preferred for its simplicity and flexibility, making it suitable for a broad range of users. Boardmaker, with its detailed symbols and customization options, is often chosen for individuals who require more specific and realistic representations.  A licensed speech therapist who is well versed in AAC will guide you to the correct symbol system. 


Understanding the different symbol systems used in AAC can help you better support individuals with communication differences. Whether you’re a parent, caregiver, or simply interested in AAC, knowing the basics of these systems can make a significant difference in how you interact and communicate with others.

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