Talking Buttons

Amazon sells talking buttons for dogs and cats so that your pets can learn to tell you that they are hungry or want to go on a walk. These buttons are less expensive than the same kind of button that is sold to help children communicate-also available on Amazon. I am not sure about the quality difference or if that is an issue.


Little inexpensive devices that hold a single recorded message. The child pushes the button and a pre-recorded message is heard. You can change the message as needed.

These buttons often have a spot where you can place a photo so that the child and parent can remember what message is recorded on the button. A bit double back tape or velcro allows you to quickly put a new picture on the button when you record a new message.

These buttons are intended are usually a short term support for children who are not yet verbal. There are much more elaborate picture symbol and picture/voice output communication systems for children who need to learn to communicate using these more complex systems but often, a few Talking Buttons are enough to get children communicating.

WHY USE A TALKING BUTTON? Every time a child successfully communicates a want, a need, a feeling, or an idea, that child becomes a more motivated communicator. It feels good to communicate! Using Talking Buttons will not slow down the development of verbal skills; rather, it will speed development up. The same is true for teaching a minimally verbal child to use signs or picture symbols to communicate.


Reciprocity is the back-and-forth of social interaction. Verbal reciprocity is challenging for children who are minimally verbal and for children who are reluctant to play with another person. A Talking Button can help overcome both of these difficulties.

In the Knock it Down video, you can see that the word UP is used over and over. If this word was recorded on a single button, a child could push the button and "tell" someone to put the animals up. Hitting a Talking Button is so easy that almost any child will do it when a Talking Button is offered. Once the adult hears UP, the adult can put an animal up and then offer the button to the child again. The game becomes reciprocal and the child is telling the adult what to do, which is a powerful form of communication.

A second button would allow the child to "tell" the adult to KNOCK IT DOWN.


Single buttons are cheap, portable, quick to record on, easy to teach, and better than picture symbols and signs for some situations. Here are a few situations and messages where Talking Buttons are great:

All Done! for ending an activity

Mom! for calling mom (I once programed a button for a nonverbal child to call their dog)

Go Away! for asking people to leave

I need a break for stopping or pausing while doing an activity including playing games

Too loud for children who are very sensitive to sound

Yes and No for teaching children to agree or disagree

Can I help? for teaching a child how to get parents attention while they are busy cooking dinner

I am mad and happy and sad and scared to teach a child to express emotions

I went to the zoo. I saw a tiger. It was fun to teach a child to talk about the past/tell a story/interact with grandparents

I feel sick! for alerting others when ill

Happy Birthday! Merry Christmas! Good Night! for commemorating the day or occasion

I love you for lifting the heart of the mother of a nonverbal child

COMMUNICATING WITH NEW WORDS AND FOR NEW REASONS: There are many reasons why we communicate and many ways that we communicate. Sometimes Talking Buttons can help with both the words and the reasons.

For example, if a presently child screams when anyone touches his new transformer toy, it is useful to program a button to say NO, DON'T TOUCH, PLEASE! The next step, of course, is to teach the child how these word work-the reason one might say these words. This might mean that you play a game where you touch the transformer toy and before this child can scream, someone quickly helps the child hit the button. The button says NO, DON'T TOUCH, PLEASE! and you quickly move away saying OK, OK, I WON'T TOUCH!

This is a game, though, so you play this until the child can independently push the button and warn you not to touch or until the child can verbally say, at minimum, NO!

Now this child has learned the skill of protesting verbally with words instead of screaming.