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CVES™ and Core Vocabulary Foldouts, Where Should I Start?

So you may be thinking after reading our first post, “why are there 9 core vocabulary foldouts?! That seems like a lot! Which one should I use?”

Those are all great questions!  CVES Core Vocabulary Foldouts have been designed based upon motor access and language needs.  The 9 different  foldouts have been organized into 3 language series (Emergent, Intermediate, Advanced).  Each series contains Large, Medium, or Small Icons.  Each CVES Core Vocabulary Foldout attaches to the back of a CVES Communication Binder. 

Emergent = Large Icons (approximately 1.5 sq inches)

Intermediate = Medium Icons (approximately 1.3 sq inches)

Advanced = Small Icons (approximately 0.9 sq inches)

Let’s talk about size of icons and access.

An individual can physically access the removable icons on CVES by directly removing core vocabulary icons from the CVES core vocabulary foldout, and 1) give the icons to a communication partner or 2)  put the icons onto the communication card to create a message at the user’s individual language level.

Icons from the Advanced (Small) 63 Single Fold can be removed from the foldout and placed onto the communication card, then given to the communication partner.


Icons “I” and “want” can be separated when making a request. The individual removes the icons from the CVES Core Vocabulary Foldout, sequences them onto the Communication Card, and gives the Communication Card to the communication partner.

An individual can use single words on the CVES Core Vocabulary Foldout.  For example, this child takes the word “eat” off of the foldout and gives it to the communication partner.  

When choosing a core vocabulary foldout, first figure out the size of icon that the child can access.  My clinical opinion tells me that determining the size of the icon is probably the most important decision.   I recommend choosing the smallest size icon the individual can motorically access.  If a child can access a smaller icon, that will allow them access to more icons and more language.

Smaller Icons = More Language! 

You might be thinking, “there are so many icons on there!!”  Yes, there are between 20-189 core vocabulary icons on each foldout depending upon which fold out size you choose (Single, Gate, Trifold).  If this seems like too much language to start with, you can hide and show icons or “mask” icons depending upon the child’s needs.

Tell me more about masking!

If we are concerned about visually overwhelming a student, you can choose to hide and show icons on the foldout by using masking icons.  A set of white masking icons is provided for your convenience with the purchase of any core vocabulary foldout.   These blank icons can be used on the CVES foldouts  just like “masking” is done on high tech communication devices.  On a low tech system like CVES,  we can hide and show icons to target specific core vocabulary words. We can take these masking icons and cover as many or as little icons as necessary.  By adding an icon as an individual learns a word, we also maintain a consistent motor plan for each core word.

The Emergent (Large) Single Fold contains 20 core vocabulary icons. White masking icons can be used to target specific core words or to narrow the visual field of icons displayed.

Differentiate to meet the individual’s communication needs by hiding many or few icons.

Do I have to mask all of the time?

No, you don’t have to mask icons all of the time.  Throughout the day, you could let the individual have time to explore all of the core words to facilitate babbling and practicing of language.  Just like a child learns to babble with speech, a child can babble with core vocabulary icons on the CVES foldouts!

Let’s talk about symbol set.

Choosing a symbol set may seem like a daunting task, especially if you’re in a special education classroom which uses 2 or more symbol sets in curriculum and communication systems.  For many of our students, we are exposing them to multiple symbols sets and are finding that they may not be making progress with their expressive or receptive language.  To me, this isn’t surprising.  Thinking about it, would we as adults be able to understand three different languages spoken in a classroom if we weren’t exposed to these languages in early development or infancy?  Could we tolerate three different speech signals for three separate languages?

We can think of a symbol set, or pictured symbol, similarly to learning a second language.  If we can provide some form of consistency with a symbol set, we might see increased progress both in the area of understanding as well as expression, especially if we are routinely using aided language input.  My preference as a clinician is to choose the symbol set that is being used most frequently within a classroom or clinical setting, and to choose that corresponding core vocabulary foldout.   If a child is seeing symbols being modeled consistently, there is greater possibly that the child will make an association between verbal speech and that symbol, which should in turn lead to increased language growth.

As a clinician, I am also looking at how symbol usage can result in the greatest icon transfer.   Many individuals using CVES™ will transition to a speech generating device.   Experience with use of a consistent symbol set may benefit an individual in transitioning between low tech and high tech.  As therapists, we should keep the idea of icon transfer in mind.    CVES™ maintains consistent icon placement for motor planning of core vocabulary icons.  Ideally, a child would transition from CVES™ to a device which maintains consistent placement of core vocabulary words.

Let’s Talk About Language!

I like to leave this decision up to the clinician or special education team providing services.  There isn’t a magic formula for “If my child does this, then they need more language” or “because my child ______ he needs less icons.”  What I can offer as advice, is that we shouldn’t look at any negative behaviors or physical behaviors that a child may exhibit as a reason for a child to have less language available to them. We should have high expectations for each child we service and provide access to a robust vocabulary which allows that child to develop spontaneous, novel, and functional communication skills.  It is my recommendation that we look at what icon size a child can access as the primary starting point for foldout size selection, and then use masking of icons as a tool to facilitate focus on specific words.

Emergent (Large) Gate Fold contains 36 icons. Some icons are masked as the individual develops a motor plan for each core word.

CVES™ is not only committed to helping individuals develop language.  Part of our mission is to create job opportunities for adults with disabilities.  Please check back next month to see how CVES™ is assembled at the Valley Sheltered Workshop!

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