Tracking Early Sentence-Building Progress in Graphic Symbol Communication

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As is the case with children who rely on spoken language, speech-language pathologists must support and track the expressive language development of children with complex communication needs who use graphic symbols to communicate. This research note presents a framework of the progression of expressive English sentence development using graphic symbols and introduces possible approaches for measuring and analyzing graphic symbol use.


Current issues in measuring graphic symbol utterances are explored, and a range of measures designed to analyze individual graphic symbol utterances as well as larger samples of utterances are presented.


Both the Graphic Symbol Utterance and Sentence Development Framework and suggested measures are based on years of graphic symbol intervention research, including two large ongoing research studies of preschoolers with severe speech impairments. Our framework adapts the work of Hadley (2014) to depict expressive language progression from early symbol combinations to childlike and adultlike sentences and highlights developmental patterns unique to graphic symbol productions. Adaptations of existing measures (such as mean length of utterance) as well as measures unique to graphic symbol analyses are presented and discussed.


To accurately track changes in early graphic symbol utterance growth and complexity, a multidimensional approach, which includes analyses such as symbol relevance, word class diversity, and lexical diversity, is recommended.