Author: Gabby May (Candidate for MS. CCC-SLP)
By gaining an understanding a child’s abilities and limitations, clinicians are able to establish appropriate AAC intervention goals. When children, regardless of their chronological age, are at the very early stages of language development, this is often a challenging task for clinicians and other practitioners to address.
The Communication Matrix, created by Charity Rowland is a “communication skills assessment for individuals in the beginning stages of communication”. It allows clinicians, parents and other professionals to input and compare data about children’s communication development. The data entered is used to create a communication profile, which details the intent and use of the child’s communication behaviors. Further, the details of the child’s communication behaviors are assessed according to these reasons of communication (intent and use) then organized according to hierarchical levels of communication development.
To further assess a child’s functional communication with respect to socialization this assessment tool looks at the following reasons for communication: refusing, obtaining, engaging in social interaction, and seeking information. Janice Light initially put forward these four reasons of communication and “The Communication Matrix,” expands on these reasons by looking at 24 additional messages. These 24 messages are similar to the language categorization (form, content, and use) proposed by Bloom and Lahey (1978). Then these messages or communication behaviors are, “further organized into seven levels of communication behaviors, which include, pre-intentional behavior, intentional behavior, unconventional pre-symbolic communication, conventional pre-symbolic communication, concrete symbols, abstract symbols, and language.”
As this assessment tool categories and formats these communication behaviors into a matrix or grid it allows the user to view the development of communication over time. Organizing the data in a grid-like format gives the parent or professional a better way to view the child and compare their communication behaviors to children with similar communication behaviors. Specifically, this assessment tool can be utilized when working with specialized populations (e.g. Cortical Visual Impairment or Rett Syndrome), as the user can view the spectrum of communication behaviors expected based on data entries by other users (parents, clinicians, and teachers).
Explaining the “The Matrix” Communication Levels
The Communication Matrix includes seven levels, each focusing on a different skill. Levels include:
- Pre-Intentional Behavior – reflects a state such as comfort, discomfort, and hunger but the individual does not have control over these behaviors
- Intentional Behavior – body movements, facial expressions, vocalizations and eye gaze
- Unconventional communication (Pre-symbolic) – behaviors are intentional, do not involve any symbol and are not socially acceptable past childhood
- Conventional communication (Pre-symbolic) – behaviors are intentional, do not involve any symbol but are socially acceptable past childhood (e.g. nodding, waving, hugging, pointing)
- Concrete Symbols – symbols that look like, feel like, move like, or sound like the thing they represent, which includes objects, pictures, gestures, and sounds (i.e spoon used to represent mealtime)
- Abstract Symbols – speech, manual sign, Braille and written language
- Language – symbols concrete or abstract, used to create a message that follows appropriate grammatical structure
Explore the Research
In a descriptive, longitudinal study conducted by Sandra M. Gether at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, the communication behaviors of 48 female children with Rett Syndrome were assessed using “The Communication Matrix.” The matrix allowed researchers to track the progression of this neuromuscular disorder with respect to communication milestones, by entering data as the child developed. Further, the goal of using “The Matrix” in this study was to employ a multidisciplinary approach to optimize care and treatment for this population.
As Rett Syndrome is a degenerative, progressive neuromotor disorder, which advances in four stages typically beginning at 6 months of age, it is critical to have detailed account of this disorder. In using “The Matrix” throughout this study, professionals in each discipline were able to enter and view data online, as the disorder advanced.
Further, this assessment tool made it possible for each professional (i.e. occupational therapist, developmental pediatrician, speech-language pathologist) and parents to “observe” the child’s behaviors over the 4 stages of this disorder.
Moreover, the AAC evaluation for this population must be comprehensive and consider the child’s communicative competency, supports, and environment. The Communication Matrix allowed the researchers and clinicians to effectively assess which assistive communication device would be the best fit for each of the children in this study. It was concluded by analyzing the data entered into “The Matrix” that individuals with Rett syndrome may benefit from multiple low-tech AAC strategies and if correct positioning can be established advanced technology with eye-gaze may be utilized.
Clinicians working with severely impaired children complex communication needs may benefit greatly by using the Communication Matrix as it allows the user to track multiple aspects of communication development in a concise and organized manner. Additionally, its ease of access supports online inter-professional collaboration, which can effectively improve patient treatment and care.
Grether, S. M. (2015). AAC Supports for Individuals With Rett Syndrome Across the Lifespan. Perspectives On Augmentative And Alternative Communication, 24(3), 74.
Rowland, C., Ph.D. (2012). Communication Matrix: Description, Research Basis and Data [Scholarly project]. In The Communication Matrix . Retrieved February 9, 2017, from https://www.communicationmatrix.org/Matrix/Pages/ResearchBasis