Using symbol support with adults with acquired communication difficulties

This blog post explores the challenges faced by adults with acquired communication difficulties post life-altering events, and emphasizes the crucial role of enhanced communication methods. We delve into the significance of alternative communication modes and specifically highlight the convenience and effectiveness of picture symbols like Smarty Symbols. Uncover how these meticulously designed images can aid in expressing needs and desires, facilitating seamless communication with family members and hospital staff. Discover the power of customization that Smarty Symbols offer, allowing for personalized communication boards that cater to individual needs, thereby easing the journey through these challenging times.

Using symbol support with adults with acquired communication difficulties

Navigating the world of communication after the onset of an acquired medical condition can be an arduous task for adults previously adept at verbal communication. Life-altering events such as a stroke or head trauma may introduce long-term communication difficulties, radically changing the way these individuals express themselves. Consequently, these hurdles often infringe upon their self-esteem. According to research conducted by R., Tamblyn, R., et al. (2008), enhanced communication methods can effectively mitigate these adverse outcomes. The initial days in the hospital or at home, surrounded by healthcare professionals and family members grappling with these newfound challenges, can be particularly daunting.

Communication difficulties vary in intensity and type, ranging from literacy issues and struggles with word retrieval to a total loss of verbal communication. In developed countries such as the United States, professionals such as speech-language-pathologists are enlisted to evaluate the patient and chart the optimal recovery course. They or an AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) specialist can recommend alternative communication modes. These can span from high-tech solutions like specialized iPad apps to low-tech methods such as gesture or writing.

However, before or even after the intervention of a speech-pathologist, it’s crucial for family members and hospital staff to establish a robust communication channel with the patient. Implementing picture symbols is an effective and convenient strategy for facilitating such communication. Picture symbols like Smarty Symbols—sets of images representing various needs and desires—enable the user to express themselves by pointing at relevant images. The complexity of these communication boards can be tailored as per the user’s needs.

The Smarty Symbols library, guided by the insights of a speech pathologist, is a treasure trove of over thirty thousand picture symbols, each meticulously designed to represent specific words or short phrases. Unlike traditional photographs, these illustrations, created by professional artists, ensure clarity in word representation. Historically, picture symbols were designed primarily for children, making them somewhat inappropriate for adults dealing with acquired communication disorders such as aphasia. To counter this, the Smarty Symbols library has expanded to include adult and elderly characters.

We’ve designed several communication boards that you can download, print, and make available in hospitals or other acute-care facilities to assist with basic communication. Family members can also print these boards for home use.

Moreover, you have the flexibility to create custom boards, incorporating words or phrases that cater specifically to the individual’s needs. For instance, personal devices like dentures or glasses, frequently used by the individual, can be included on these tailor-made communication boards.


  1. Bartlett, G., Blais, R., Tamblyn, R., et al. (2008) Impact of patient communication problems on the risk of preventable adverse events in acute care settings. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 178 (2).
  2. Koehler (2011). AAC in Acute Care. From:

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