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Handout C: Development of Communicative Intent 

Rowland, C., & Schweigert, P. (2000). Development of communicative intent. In Communication development and teaching strategies for children with severe and multiple disabilities: Presymbolic communication and tangible symbol systems (p. 4). Portland: Oregon Health and Science University Design to Learn Projects.

Used by permission of Oregon Health and Science University.

Level of communication

Pragmatic Features

Level I

Preintentional (reactive) behavior

States expressed by behaviors (as interpreted by caregivers)

  • discomfort
  • comfort
  • interest/excitement
  • startle

Level II

Intentional (proactive) behavior

Functions that behaviors serve (as interpreted by caregivers)

  • protest/reject
  • continue pleasurable action
  • obtain more of something
  • attract attention

Level III

Nonconventional presymbolic communication

Intents for which behaviors are used by child

  • refuse/reject
  • request more of an action
  • request a new action
  • request more of an object
  • request a new object
  • request attention
  • show affection

Level IV

Conventional presymbolic communication

All of above intents and

  • greetings
  • offer/share
  • direct attention to something
  • confirm/negate
  • ask questions

Level V

Concrete symbolic communication

All of the above intents and

  • request an absent object
  • label

Level VI

Abstract symbolic communication

All of the above intents and

  • comment

Level VII

Formal symbolic communication (language)

All of the above intents