The Communication Matrix is an evaluation tool that allows you to assess complex early communication needs. It is an assessment that takes into account alternative forms of communication like: picture systems, electronic devices, voice-output systems, Braille, sign language, 3D symbols, pre-symbolic communication (gestures, body movement, sounds, eye gaze and facial expressions), as well as typical communication (speech). The Communication Matrix assesses and then the web-based computer generated report creates a Communication Matrix with 3 Factors that you and/or the parent has assessed your student on: the 4 reasons to communicate, the 7 levels of communication and the 9 categories of communication behavior.
The Communication Matrix assessment was first published in 1990 and most recently re-edited in 2004 by Dr. Charity Rowland of Oregon Health and Science University. This assessment was made with Speech-Language Pathologists and early educators in mind. A small team of researchers and special educators not only developed the assessment but they believe in utilizing accessible strategies for children and adults with complex communication needs: autism, deaf-blind, alternative communication device, etc. while also taking into account their therapists, teachers, and caregivers. The completely anonymous data is kept from each assessment and the researchers use it to better help the community with complex communication needs.
The Communication Matrix Assessment is called a matrix because the language assessed is organized across 3 different factors:
- The 4 Reasons to Communicate
- The 7 Levels of Communication
- The 9 Categories of Communicative Behavior
First Factor- The 4 Reasons to Communicate:
- Refuse things that we don’t want
- Obtain things that we don’t want
- Engage in social interaction
- Provide or seek information
Second Factor- The 7 Levels of Communication:
- Pre-Intentional Behavior: 0-3 months of age. Reflects their state (comfortable, sleepy, hungry, etc.).
- Intentional Behavior: 3-8 months of age. Unintentional communication, but the communicator realizes they can use their body to behave in a way to communicate (cries, eye gaze, etc.).
- Unconventional Communication: 6-22 months of age. Intentional communication. The website describes this level as “unconventional” because this way of communication is not socially acceptable for us to use as we grow older (tugging on a shirt, ‘give me’ gestures, etc.)
- Conventional Communication: 12-18 months of age. Culturally appropriate gestures. The creators of the Communication Matrix take into account that the visually impaired population may not use this level of communication.
- Concrete Symbols: 12-24 months of age with gestures and words. These symbols sound like, look like, feel like, act like what they represent (“moo” for cow).
- Abstract Symbols: 12-24 months of age. Symbols used one at a time and can be single words, signs, brail, or printed words.
- Language: Begins at 23 months of age. More grammatical in nature with 2 or 3 symbol combinations.
Here is a snapshot of how the First Factor-The First Reasons to Communicate (X Axis) and the Second Factor- The 7 Levels of Communication (Y Axis) relate in a mini Matrix.
One of the main things I like about the Communication Matrix is the ease of giving it. There is a printed version you can use by purchasing the PDF for a one time cost of $5. Or there is a web-based version that is free, however if you give it more than 5 times in 12 months there is a cost. You will create an account to keep track of this and creating an account will also allow you to receive the matrix of results. The website notes, “All fees are used to cover the expenses of maintaining the Communication Matrix and providing support and education to users”.
Third Factor- 9 Categories of Communication Behavior:
The researchers who developed the Communication Matrix Assessment identified 9 different categories of communication behavior. They are mostly developmental in nature.
- Body Movements
- Facial Expressions
- Early Sounds
- Simple Gestures
- Conventional Gestures & Vocals
- Concrete Symbols
- Abstract Symbols
Here is a snapshot of how the Second Factor- The 7 Levels of Communication (Y Axis) and the Third Factor-The 9 Categories of Communication Behavior (X Axis) relate in a mini Matrix.
You can try the Communication Matrix Assessment for free anytime! Just click the “Try It” button on the top left corner of the homepage. Now that we know what the Communication Matrix Assesses, let’s talk about the report the website can generate (click here to view it yourself!). The report generates a Communication Matrix with all 3 Factors that you and/or the parent has assessed your student on: the 4 reasons to communicate, the 7 levels of communication and the 9 categories of communication behavior. Here is an example of the visual.
You can see that this client has surpassed level 1 and 2 and is primarily operating in level 3. The report also provides the following:
- Specific skills mastered vs emerging
- Primary level the child is operating
- Percentage of messages expressed at each level
- Categories of behaviors used to communicate
- Summary of progress (the website keeps past results in your account)
- Recommendations for current levels and higher levels (including goals)
A parent version of the Communication Matrix Assessment is a paper version that lets parents complete the assessment on their own time or with your support. I love this option! It is also available in several languages other than English including: Spanish, Czech, Dutch, Chinese (traditional), Russian, Korean and Vietnamese.
Do you have students that could benefit from the Communication Matrix Assessment?
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Love this resource Jenna – so glad you covered it on the blog!
Thanks so much for this information. I had never heard about it and will definitely check it out.
I have been working with a group the just published Modules to accompany the Matrix for each level and Stratton progress students to the next level. We are presenting at KY Speech Hearing Conference in February. You can also find all the info on West Virginia’s Department of Education website!