Making Tactile Symbols

Tactile Symbol for February
Tactile Symbol for February

Before beginning with tactile symbols, you need to decide what the symbols should be. If only one student is in the environment using symbols, technically, the symbols themselves are can be arbitrary. But many years ago at TSBVI we started standardizing the symbols to assist the students, staff and caregivers when the student moves from one setting to another, changes teachers or goes to a new school or classroom.

On the pages that follow we have created a sort of online dictionary of these standardized symbols. If you want, you can use that as a starting point. But even if you take advantage of a standardized system, symbols often need to be created specifically for your student.  Every student’s situation — their activities, their places, people they know and so forth — is different.

If you are starting from scratch with a symbol, try to pick something that will make sense to the student. A part or a piece of an object often works. By necessity, however,  some symbols have to be arbitrary, because there is no obvious item to place on the symbol. When that’s the case, the student will learn the meaning through repeated association.

All symbols eventually deteriorate, so plan time for creating and repairing  symbols. Often times the classroom paraprofessional can help with this task, but volunteers may also be trained to help.

Speaking of replacement, it always helps to use materials that are easily available when replacement is needed.

When possible, give the student responsibility for his or her symbols. Get the student involved in making, storing, and caring for the symbols as much as possible. This will help increase how the student values the symbols, and help them be more independent in using them.

Some materials used by TSBVI staff in creating symbols include:

    • a hot glue gun
    • background textures such as poster board, foam paper, needlepoint backing
    • Velcro
    • carpet remnants
    • puff paint
    • foil 
    • netting
    • contact paper
    • satin acetate fabric, leather, other types of fabric with distinct textures
    • bumpy vinyl wallpaper, foam paper, or other materials with distinct textures
    • beads
    • buttons
    • pipe cleaners
    • paperclips
    • popsicle sticks
    • sequins
    • q-tips
    • aluminum can tabs
    • yarn
    • artificial grass like used in Easter baskets
    • shredded paper strips
    • sandpaper
    • pasta
    • beans
    • rice
    • coins
    • tile spacers
    • game pieces
    • pieces of small objects – part of a toothbrush, razor, spoon
    • etc., etc., etc.