Communication Series – Yes/No boards

Word Selection – Introducing Yes/No boards

Yes no board

It is difficult to decide where to start with the area of word/letter selection; and whilst I briefly discussed Facilitated Communication and Rapid Prompting Method and their controversies in the introductory post and therefore could extend on them – I decided it would be better to go with a more positive and practical post.

Yes/No boards, buttons, apps, or devices are relatively simple and straightforward AAC resources that allow the user to develop a remarkable amount of control with a two word selection option. Admittedly there are a number of limitations – one of the biggest being the restrictiveness of the answers available, and another being the fact that the teacher might have to cycle through a huge number of questions before getting to the one that the student wants to say “Yes” to.

Some people are reluctant to teach “No”, because it inevitably could lead to refusal to do certain activities, or indeed a large number of things. However, as I mentioned in my review of Autistic Logistics, autistic people are often denied their right to refuse to do something. Additionally, if someone’s “No” is respected then they will probably feel that you can be trusted and will be more comfortable exploring new things with you.

Since this is under the section of word boards I won’t make reference anymore to the fact that the Yes/No board can appear in other high-tech or low-tech AAC format; but it can and the same principles generally will apply. Sometimes speech generating devices are more effective because the visual and auditory information at the same times improves understanding.


Teaching Yes and No

There is a certain amount of receptive communication required to make extensive use of the Yes/No board, but sometimes it can be difficult to ascertain just how much a student is understanding. The thing is with most AAC methods, if you try it for a few weeks and then decide it doesn’t work then it is unlikely to have done any harm unless you went about teaching it in the wrong way, or something entirely unforeseen occurred.

As with any form of teaching AAC, a good knowledge and understanding of the student is required to know where naturally occurring opportunities to teach responses will arise, and how to use the source of these opportunities to manufacture more.

One straightforward way to teach Yes/No is when the student is showing signs of beginning to get hungry. Now this can’t be at a point where the student is uncomfortably hungry because they won’t be in the mood to develop their skills, but before that point is fine. You can then offer something to eat – either something they do want (preferred item) or something they don’t want (non-preferred) and ask the question “Do you want this?”. They may already have a gesture or means of communicating that you know well – when they make their indication either model or prompt them to indicate on the Yes/No board.

Teacher: Do you want this? *offers mushroom*

Student: *pushes the teacher’s hand away*

Teacher: Do you want this? *offers mushroom but also immediately models by pointing to No* No! *puts mushroom away quickly*

*Teacher gets banana*

Teacher: Do you want this?

Student: *grabs at the banana*

Teacher: *prompts student to point to Yes* Yes! *hands over banana*

Learning to say yes, incidentally, is often less important than saying no. Whilst it does have its place, and helps to model a more appropriate means than say snatching or grabbing, saying “Yes” is often not a problem area. If a child is offered something they like and they just take it, then that’s fine. Being able to say “No” is often more important because the student may otherwise develop challenging or harmful ways of saying “No” to ensure they get their meaning across. This might include hitting, spitting, biting, throwing objects, or self-injurious behaviour.

Another area to work on teaching Yes/No with the above in mind is for situations where you know a student sometimes (or even frequently) reacts badly to a certain demand. This might be a request to sit down and do work at school and they’re not ready yet, it may be a request to help with something at home that they don’t want to do, or something else. In which case a similar conversation to the one above unfolds:

Teacher: Time for literacy.

Student: *lifts hand to slap teacher – either the teacher or a second person stops this and immediately directs them to point to the “No” reinforced with supporting speech*

Teacher: Oh, you’re not ready. Let’s wait.

*3-5 minutes later*

Teacher: Time for literacy.

Student: *lifts hand to slap teacher – either the teacher or a second person stops this and immediately directs them to point to the “No” reinforced with supporting speech*

Teacher: Oh, you’re not ready. Let’s wait.

*3-5 minutes later*

Teacher: Time for literacy.

Student: *approaches desk and teacher willingly – prompted to point to “Yes” reinforced with supporting speech*

Teacher: You are ready for literacy.

As I said at the top – this might seem from the outset like it’s allowing someone to refuse to do anything, but the plan isn’t to take their “No” and apply it to that situation forever. Saying “No” doesn’t mean “Never”, so you can always ask again later. This might allow the student the time to prepare themselves, or it might allow you to evaluate whether there’s anything (such as potential sensory issues) that you can change to make the activity better for the student to access.

Additionally, having a student say “No” is a lot better than the situation escalating to a point where self-injuring, violent behaviour, or any form of restraint needs to be used.

Until next time.


Examples of Yes/No Boards

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Disclaimer: The opinions and information provided in this post are my own, and based on personal, educational, and work-based experience. They do not reflect the opinions of any of the authors of the content referenced in this post. I am not affiliated or supported by any organisation, and this is meant to be an educational series of posts. The information posted here is not a substitute for advice and information provided by your own GP, speech and language therapist, occupational therapist or other professional in the field of autism, and should not be taken as such.

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