Types of Communication


Communication comes in many different forms and it's crucial that we are able to identify how a child may be communicating. This will, in turn, provide a starting point for discussions with families when looking at short and long term therapeutic goals. There are five different types of communication, with the hierarchy indicating unintentional passive communication acquired first and symbolic established as last.


Unintentional Passive Communication (UP)

Unintentional communication indicates the child is not actively participating in the communication exchange. A child will react to touch and will vocalise comfort and/or distress. The child will show some anticipation and awareness of sounds, especially voices. The child will responds to close interactions and will visual follow slowly moving objects and people. The child will also be able to look between two objects.


Unintentional Active Communication (UA)

Similarly to the above, the child is not actively participating in the communication exchange. A child who is an unintentional active communicator will be able to uses a range of actions with objects. They will be able to takes turns in familiar routines and indicate ‘more’. The child will search for preferred objects and will uses varying pitch and volume in their voice to reflect emotions. A child will moves towards familiar people or object to indicate preference. Conversely the child may also moves or push away another person’s hand away to show protest or dislike.


Intentional Informal Communication (II)

The child will be observed searching for preferred objects or people. They will also respond to simple spoken or signed commands. The child may use some communicative gestures like waving hello or goodbye. The child may be observed taking people to get objects or persists with an action to satisfy an immediate need. The child will respond immediately to their own name and may uses single words or gestures. They will also be able to demonstrate simple problem solving skills e.g. opening a clear container with a toy inside.


Symbolic (Basic) Communication (SB)

The child will demonstrate recognition of familiar people in unfamiliar situations. They will be aware of what objects go with activities in their daily routines, for example their plate and spoon. They may search for an object where it was previously seen or gives an object to a person to obtain an action. They may follow a simple instruction that is not part of usual routine. The child may relate to line drawings to real objects or people, for example, if they were to draw their family during a colouring activity. They will find new ways to get someone’s attention to get what is wanted. The child will uses at least five words, signs or gestures functionally and can imitate or attempt to imitate most gestures. They will also have a reliable way of indicating a choice.



Symbolic (Established) Communication (SE)

This child will have an ability to solve basic problems by thinking about them and can predict cause/effect relationships. The child may draw or past experiences to solve new problems. They are also able to match items on the basis of colour, size or shape and uses objects or actions symbolically. The child is able to respond to simple two step instructions out of their routine. They may uses photos/pictures/signs for choice making or to initiate communication. They will be able to produces approximately 50 single words or signs and respond appropriately to simple yes/no questions.