• The pictograms are images that facilitate communication for autistic people and those who have language difficulties.
  • Thanks to pictograms, which convert written information into visual information , literature can be more accessible.

The acquisition of language is essential to understand ourselves with others, get in touch with our environment, access knowledge… Without it, we would be deprived of the most basic form of communication that helps us develop personally, socially, and professionally.

Imagine that you move to a country whose language you have never studied. Wouldn’t it be difficult for you day to day? Well, this feeling of disconnection and isolation is what is constantly experienced by those people who, for very different reasons, present difficulties at the linguistic level. This is the case, for example, of autistic people, among whose handicaps is language, both in its understanding and in its expression. For them the information is more comprehensible if it is transmitted to them through an image (they will understand the drawing of a car sooner than the word “car”). Therefore, transforming written content into visual content would break that barrier that separates them, in a certain way, from the world.

This is where books come into play. When thinking about literature, the first thing that comes to mind is the written word, the text, pages and pages full of letters that we can interpret and make sense of. Just as we would give a young child learning to read an illustrated children’s book instead of an adult novel, a person with language difficulties should also be provided with appropriate literary material. It is thanks to the pictograms that texts can be adapted to the visual language, making literature a more accessible art.

What are the pictograms?

Have you ever seen a series of images at a crosswalk that provide information on how to cross the street? They are squares inside which there are drawings accompanied by the words “stop”, “look”, “car stopped” and “cross”. These are pictograms , a visual tool used to facilitate communication for autistic people, although they are also useful for other users with disabilities or disorders in which language is impaired.

The pictograms are images that are part of the Augmentative and Alternative Communication Systems (SAAC), defined by ARASAAC as forms of expression other than spoken language and whose objective is to increase the level of expression (augmentative), as well as to compensate (alternative). communication difficulties.

The pictogram is used in different fields —educational, social, family, work…— to present information of all kinds: inform about the daily routine, list the steps to follow to carry out an activity, indicate what can and cannot be done It can be done in a specific context… Autistic people also use it to express themselves when they do not have oral language or it is affected; For example, if they want to drink and don’t know how to ask for it, they can give the pictogram of a glass of water. On the other hand, they facilitate reading , since they convert too abstract information —the word— into a more tangible and understandable —the image—.

Characteristics of the pictograms

Not all images can be used as a pictogram, as they must have certain characteristics to be considered as such.

To begin with, each pictogram is  self-explanatory , that is, it has to give all the information without needing any further clarification. The image must be sufficiently informative, although it is true that on some occasions the term written below is added to it to encourage the association between the drawing and the word.

The pictograms make up a universal language and, consequently, are understandable by everyone regardless of their mother tongue. Unlike sign language, which differs from one country to another, in the case of this tool it can be used indiscriminately by Spanish, French, English… The visual representation of a chair is the same here as anywhere else, right?

Likewise, it is an essential requirement that they are simple and easily interpretable images: at a glance the person must be able to identify what it is about. In addition, in the case of autistic people, the excessive details in the images interfere with their understanding of the same, since they can become focused on them and lose their global meaning.

In the field of communication, pictograms turn any exchange into a more agile and dynamic process. The image is already sending a message, so making use of it gives a lot of information without the need to express anything in words.

Books with pictograms

Literature is a source of learning but also of entertainment. Autistic people have better access to stories if they are represented with pictograms.

Books with pictograms can be completely in visual language (for example, ” the boy likes the green car” would be transcribed as the pictogram of a child + the one for “I like” + the one for a car + the one for the color green) or use the pictogram to represent only the relevant information. The above example would be presented as “The (pictogram of the child) likes the (pictogram of the car) (pictogram of the color green)”.

Now, are there currently works adapted to this language? Yes, little by little the publishing world is integrating pictogram books into its catalogues. At the moment they are only children’s stories or literary classics to bring them closer to a young audience, but we trust that in the future the pictograms will be used to transform more complex stories into accessible ones.