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Introducing the Communication Matrix as a "Road Map"

Author-Avatar Karen Natoci

11/25/2019 7:39 PM

I use the Matrix for several reasons: it has a nice visual presentation and makes my evaluation results easy to display in a clear, understandable way. For example, I will literally grab the nearest marker or colored pen & draw on it when conversing with families. I might draw arrows, use different color highlighters and turn the grid into a living, interactive document to map next steps with the team and justify suggested goals. Sharing the completed Matrix at meetings helps to maintain a team’s focus. Color coding provides a “map” or a “plan” moving to “next steps”. This provides a basis for team decisions while maintaining accountability over time.

When it’s your turn to talk during an IEP, it is a good idea to give a little “backstory” when reviewing the seven levels of communication while you exhibit the Communication Matrix Grid to the team. For example, I might preface my discussion of early communication by reviewing the concept pictured below in Figure 1 (Rowland and Schweigert, First things First: early communication for the pre-symbolic child with severe disabilities, 2004). I share this as an example of a “triangle of early communication” and briefly explain that communication involves two partners and a message (topic). (I might point to myself, another person on the team and then point to their coffee cup, as the topic to make my point.)

I explain that at the first two levels of communication (level I, II), the learner may use many ways to communicate and the burden of understanding the message is often placed on a knowledgeable partner (which may involve some guessing.) Communication at the first two levels on the Matrix is mostly successful with familiar communication partners, about familiar topics and routines involving basic needs. Figure 1 shows that a learner may communicate unintentionally even if engaging directly with an object OR person while showing questionable intent to convey a message. In this case, much guessing may take place and communication misunderstandings may occur. Levels I and II are illustrated when two sides of this communication triangle (figure 1) are connected (learner conveys interest toward a person OR a topic but not both at the same time) and Level III is satisfied when all three sides are connected (figure 1) and the learner conveys topic to a partner OR learner leads partner to the topic. Level III is often a multi-modal, communicative performance between familiar communication partners. Those learners who communicate at a level III are more successful because both the learner and the partner have understood the message; therefore, guessing is reduced or eliminated. Level III communicators often know how to use their body language, calling devices and the environment to meet basic communication needs, gain attention, make choices, refuse and engage in back and forth communicative exchanges – all without a communication device! Overall, level III communicators are more likely to be successful in communicating with their less familiar partners moving to level IV.

Level 1. Pre-Intentional Behavior,Level 2. Intentional Behavior,Level 3. Unconventional Communication,Intervention Strategies

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