Literacy skills are tremendously important in today’s society; they provide a means to enhance education, improve employment opportunities, develop social relationships, access the Internet, foster personal expression, and provide enjoyable leisure activities. Literacy skills are even more important for individuals who have complex communication needs and have limited speech. Being able to read and write allow individuals who require AAC a means to communicate anything they want. Unfortunately most of literacy curricula require students to provide oral responses; these programs are not appropriate for individuals with autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and other special needs who have limited speech. There is an urgent need to develop effective, research-based interventions to teach literacy skills to individuals with complex communication needs.
At Penn State, we have been investigating ways to effectively teach literacy skills to individuals with complex communication needs.
There is on-going, long-term work regarding literacy intervention based on the recommendations of the National Reading Panel. Accordingly, it targets a wide range of skills including phonological awareness, letter sound correspondences, decoding, sight word recognition, shared reading, and reading comprehension skills as well as spelling and writing skills. The intervention applies principles of effective instruction and provides numerous opportunities for students to practice skills within meaningful literacy activities that have been individualized to be accessible for the learner’s means of understanding and expressing him or herself. To date, children with autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, developmental apraxia and multiple disabilities have benefited tremendously from the literacy intervention, including children ages 3-16 years of age. There are multiple free web resources available which provide comprehensive overviews of this approach.
In addition, since 2014 the RERC on AAC has been investigating and developing innovative technologies designed to capitalize on natural language processing and dynamic computer supports to enhance text opportunities with individuals who communicate primarily with picture/photograph symbols. The R2 research project, “Investigating AAC technologies to support the transition from graphic symbols to literacy” seeks to compliment formal literacy instruction, and support increased communication and participation in daily activities at home, at school, at work and in the community.
Recent publications, presentations, websites and webcasts on our literacy research at Penn State include:
Caron, J. & Light, J. (2015). Social media has opened up a world of ‘Open Communication’: Experiences of adults with cerebral palsy who use augmentative and alternative communication an social media. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, early on-line. DOI: 10.3109/07434618.2015.1052887
Yorke, A., Therrien, M., & Light, J., (2013, November). A Meta-Analysis of Storybook Reading With Individuals With Complex Communication Needs Who Require AAC. Poster at ASHA in Chicago, IL.
Light, J., & McNaughton, D. (2012). Supporting the Communication, Language, and Literacy Development of Children with Complex Communication Needs: State of the Science and Future Research Priorities. Assistive Technology, 24, 34–44. (abstract)
Light, J. & McNaughton, D. (2012). Literacy intervention for individuals with complex communication needs. In D. Beukelman & P. Mirenda (Eds.) Augmentative and alternative communication: Supporting children and adults with complex communication needs. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Light, J. (2012, March). Improving Literacy Outcomes for Students with Complex Communication Needs. Presentation at Pennsylvania Department of Education Annual Conference, Hershey, PA. [Handout]
Light, J. & McNaughton, D. (2011). Improving literacy outcomes for individuals with autism spectrum disorders and limited speech. (Webcast)
Kennedy, P. & McNaughton, D. (July, 2010). The Writers Brigade. ConnSENSE Bulletin. (Full Text).
Light, J. & McNaughton, D. (2009). Literacy instruction for individuals with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and other disabilities (Website)
Light, J. & McNaughton, D. (2009). Maximizing the literacy skills of individuals who require AAC. (Webcast)
Light, J. & McNaughton, D. (2009). Accessible Literacy Learning: Evidence-based reading instruction for individuals with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and other disabilities. San Diego, CA: Mayer Johnson
Light, J. & McNaughton, D. (2009). Meeting the demands of the curriculum for conventional and advanced readers and writers who require AAC. In G. Soto & C. Zangari (Eds.). Practically speaking: Language, literacy, and academic development for students with AAC needs. (pp. 217-245). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
McNaughton, D. & Light, J. (2009). Literacy program produces exciting results for children who struggle with speech. Exceptional Parent. (Full text, pdf).
Light, J., McNaughton, D., Weyer, M., & Karg, L. (2008). Evidence-based literacy instruction for individuals who require Augmentative and Alternative Communication: A case study of a student with multiple disabilities. Seminars in Speech and Language, 29, 120-132.
DeRuyter, F., McNaughton, D., Caves, K., Bryen, D. N., & Williams, M. (2007). Enhancing AAC connections with the world. Augmentative & Alternative Communication, 23, 258-270.
Fallon, K., Light, J., McNaughton, D., Drager, K. & Hammer, C. (2004). The effects of direct instruction on the single-word reading skills of children who require Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). Journal of Speech Language Hearing Research, 47, 1424-1439. [Abstract]
McNaughton, D. (2004) Tracy’s Story. Success Stories 2004: Consumer Perspectives, NCDDR.
Millar, D., Light, J., & McNaughton, D. (2004). The effect of direct instruction and Writers Workshop on the early writing skills of children who use Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 20, 164-178.