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Handout B: Seven Levels of Communicative Competence

Rowland, C., & Schweigert, P. (2000). Seven levels of communicative competence. In Communication development and teaching strategies for children with severe and multiple disabilities: Presymbolic communication and tangible symbol systems (p. 2). Portland: Oregon Health and Science University Design to Learn Projects.

Used by permission of Oregon Health and Science University.

LevelSalient behavior

I. Preintentional (reactive) behavior

Preintentional or reflexive behavior that expresses state of subject. State (e.g., hungry, sleepy) is interpreted by observer.

II. Intentional (proactive) behavior (not intentionally communicative)

Behavior is intentional, but is not intentionally communicative. Behavior functions to affect observer’s behavior, because observer infers intent.

III. Nonconventional presymbolic   

     communication

Nonconventional gestures are used with intent to affect observer’s behavior.

IV. Conventional presymbolic

communication

Conventional gestures are used with intent to affect observer’s behavior.

V. Concrete symbolic communication

Limited use of concrete (iconic) symbols to represent environmental entities. One-to-one correspondence between symbol and referent.

VI. Abstract symbolic communication

Limited use of abstract (arbitrary) symbols to represent environmental entities. Symbols are used one at a time.

VII. Formal symbolic communication

Rule-bound use of arbitrary symbol system. Ordered combinations of two or more symbols according to syntactic rules.