Improving Language and Communication Outcomes for Young Children with Complex Communication Needs

Challenge

Many children with autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and other special needs do not develop speech and language skills as expected; they may have limited speech, they may develop speech late, or they may have speech that is difficult to understand. Without access to speech, these children are severely restricted in the opportunities to express their needs and wants, participate in educational activities, and develop social relationships. There is solid research evidence that demonstrates that AAC offers positive benefits for young children with complex communication needs. Unfortunately most children with complex communication needs do not receive AAC intervention until they are much older and have already missed out on several important years of communication and language learning. The challenge is to investigate early AAC interventions to maximize the language and communication development of infants, toddlers and preschoolers with complex communication needs.

Research Activities

A series of research studies remains on-going to develop effective evidence-based AAC interventions to enhance the language and communication development of infants, toddlers and preschoolers with complex communication needs.

This research centers around two main components of AAC intervention:

  • Designing AAC technologies /apps to better meet the needs and skills of young children with complex communication needs
  • Teaching partners effective strategies to support the language and communication development of young children with complex communication needs.

We are committed to better understanding the design of AAC technologies /apps for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, including research to

  • Enhance the appeal of AAC technologies /apps for young children
  • Decrease the learning demands of AAC technologies /apps for young children
  • Increase the communication power of AAC technologies /apps for young children
  • Decrease the time and effort required of parents and professionals to program AAC technologies /apps and implement them into the everyday lives of young children.

In addition we are involved in research to teach parents and professionals strategies to effectively support the communication and language development of young children with complex communication needs including strategies such as

  • Identify appropriate contexts to support the communication of young children
  • Provide the children with effective means to communicate including AAC systems such as signs, low tech symbols/boards, and high tech speech generating devices/ apps
  • Select appropriate vocabulary for the children
  • Set up the environment to support communication
  • Use appropriate interaction strategies to support the children’s communication (e.g., provide lots of opportunities for communication, model use of AAC and speech, wait and allow time for communication, respond to the children’s communicative attempts, have fun)

Since 2014, the research and development projects with the RERC on AAC has been contributing insights into the visual-cognitive processing demands, and the impact of interactive video Visual Scene Displays (VSDs).

Overall, the PSU research supports effective evidence-based AAC intervention for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with complex communication needs to enhance their language and communication development.

Information Sharing

Light, J., Caron, J., Holyfield, C., Currall, J., Knudtson, C., Ekman, M., Breakstone, B., Drager, K. (2016, November). Supporting the language development of children with Complex Communication Needs: Just-in-Time programming of AAC apps. Presentation at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) Conference, Philadelphia, PA.

Chapin, S., McNaughton, D., Boyle, S., (August 8, 2016).  “Effects of Peer Support Interventions on the Communication of Preschoolers with ASD: A Systematic Review.”  Presentation at ISAAC.  Toronto, Canada.  [Handout].

Breakstone, B., & Light, J. (Aug. 8, 2016).  “Symbol-infused play for children with complex communication needs.”  Presentation at ISAAC.  Toronto, Canada.  [Handout].

Therrien, M., & Light, J. (August 9, 2016).  “Using the iPad to support peer interaction for children with CCN.”  Presentation at ISAAC.  Toronto, Canada.

Therrien, M.,  Light, J.,  & Pope, L. (2016). Systematic Review of the Effects of Interventions to Promote Peer Interactions for Children who use Aided AAC.  Augmentative and Alternative Communication.   [Abstract]

Caron, J., Light, J., & Drager, K., (2015).  Operational Demands of AAC Mobile Technology Applications on Programming Vocabulary and Engagement During Professional and Child Interactions.  Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 23: 1-13.  [Abstract]

Ekman, M., Light, J., & Currall, J. (November 14, 2015). Just-in-Time AAC Technology Effects on Communicative Turns of Young Children with Complex Communication Needs. Poster presentation at ASHA: Denver, Colorado. [Handout]

Therrien, M., Muttiah, N., McNaughton, D., Bronstein, E., Dubrow, S., Livi, F., Rogers, S., (November 14, 2015). A Scoping Review of Supports for Children with Complex Communication Needs in Inclusive Education. Poster presentation at ASHA: Denver, CO.

Therrien, M., & Light, J. (November 14, 2015). A Social Interaction Intervention Using the iPad for Preschool Children with CCN. Poster presentation at ASHA: Denver, Colorado.

Therrien, M., Therrien, M., & Light, J. (November 14, 2015). The Relationship Between Motor Development and Language Development Using the ICF Framework. Poster presentation at ASHA: Denver, Colorado.

Breakstone, B., & Light, J. (November 14, 2015). Effects of Parent Responsivity Training on Communication / Language of Children with Complex Communication Needs: A Systematic Review. Poster presentation at ASHA: Denver, Colorado.

Thistle, J. & Wilkinson, K. (2015).  Building Evidence-based Practice in AAC Display Design for Young Children:  Current Practices and Future Directions.   Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 31 (2):  124-136.  [Abstract]

Worah, S., McNaughton, D., Light, J., Benedek-Wood, E. (2015).  A comparison of two approaches for representing AAC vocabulary for young children.  International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 1-10.  doi:10.3109/17549507.2014.987817

Drager, K. (2013, July).  Children’s Representations of Early Language Concepts.  Presentation at 2013 ISAAC Annual Conference for AAC:  Israel.

Drager, K. (2013, July).  AAC to Improve Social Interaction and Language Development for Beginning Communicators.  Presentation at 2013 ISAAC Annual Conference for AAC:  Israel.

Drager, K., (2013, July).  Considering the Design of AAC Systems for Young Children.  Presentation at 2013 ISAAC Annual Conference for AAC:  Israel.

Light, J., Drager, K., & McNaughton, D. (2013, May).  Building Language and Literacy Skills for Children Who Require AAC.  Presentation at Communications Carnival:  Gothenburg, Sweden.  [Handout].

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., Drager, K., Currall, J. (2012, November).  Effects of AAC Technologies With “Just in Time” Programming.  Presentation at ASHA in Atlanta, GA.  [Handout]

Light, J. (January, 2012).  Designing Effective AAC Technologies for Beginning Communicators.  On-line presentation with the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) as part of their AT Research Conversations.  [Webinar]

Drager, K., & Finke, E. (2012).  Intelligibility of children’s speech in digitized speech.  Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 28, 181-9.  [Abstract]

Drager, K., Light, J., & McNaughton, D. (2011). Effects of AAC interventions on communication and language for young children with complex communication needs. Journal of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine, 3, 303-310. [Full Text]

Drager, K., Light, J., & McNaughton, D. (2011). Introduction to the use of AAC for children with complex communication needs. [Webcast]

Drager, K., Light, J., & McNaughton, D. (2010). Effects of AAC interventions on communication and language for young children with complex communication needs. Journal of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine, 3, 303-310.  [Full Text]

Light, J. & Drager, K. (2010, November). Effects of early AAC intervention for children with Down syndrome. Miniseminar presented at the Annual Conference of the American Speech Language Hearing Association, Philadelphia, PA.

Drager, K. & Light, J. (2010). A comparison of the performance of 5-year-old children using iconic encoding in AAC systems with and without iconic prediction. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 26, 12-20.  [Full Text]

Costigan, F.A. & Light, J. (2010). The effect of seated position on upper extremity access to augmentative communication for children with cerebral palsy: Preliminary investigation. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 64, 596-604.

Light, J. (2009). AAC interventions to maximize language development for young children [Webcast]

Light, J. & Drager, K. (2009). Early interventions for children with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and other disabilities [Website]

Costigan, F.A. (2009). Seating and positioning for individuals who use AAC [Webcast]

Drager, K.D.R., Light, J.C., & Finke, E.H. (2008). Using AAC technologies to build social interaction with young children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.  In P. Mirenda, & T. Iacono (Eds.) AAC for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders.  (pp. 247-278). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

McNaughton, D., Rackensperger, T., Benedek-Wood, E., Krezman, K., & Williams, M. (2008). “A child needs to be given a chance to succeed”: Parents of individuals who use AAC describe the benefits and challenges of learning AAC technologies. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 24, 43-55.

Light, J., & Drager, K. (2007). AAC technologies for young children with complex communication needs: State of the science and future research directions. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 23, 204–216. [Full Text]

Light, J., Page, R., Curran, J., & Pitkin, L. (2007). Children’s ideas for the design of AAC assistive technologies for young children with complex communication needs. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 23(1), 1-14.

Drager, K, Clark-Serpentine, E, Johnson, K, & Roeser, J (2006). Accuracy of repetition of digitized and synthesized speech for young children in background noise. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 15, 155-164.   [Abstract]

Drager, K, Postal, V, Carrolus, L, Castellano, M, Gagliano, C, & Glynn, J (2006). The effect of aided language modeling on symbol comprehension and production in two preschoolers with autism. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 15, 112-125.   [Abstract]

Millar, D, Light, J, & Schlosser, R (2006). The impact of augmentative and alternative communication intervention on the speech production of individuals with developmental disabilities: A research review. Journal of Speech Language Hearing Research, 49, 248-264. [Abstract]

Drager, K., Light, J., Carlson, R., DSilva, K., Larsson, B., Pitkin, L., Stopper, G. (2004) Learning of dynamic display AAC technologies by typically developing 3-year-olds: Effect of different layouts and menu approaches. Journal of Speech Language Hearing Research, 47, 1133-1148.   [Abstract]

Light, J. Prebble, B, & Prebble, J. (2004) Gareth’s Story. Success Stories 2004: Consumer Perspectives, NCDDR.

Light, J., Drager, K. McCarthy, J. Mellott, S., Parrish, C., Parsons, A., Rhoads, S., Ward, M., & Welliver, M. (2004). Performance of typically developing four and five year old children with AAC systems using different language organization techniques. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 20, 63-88.

Light, J., Drager, K., & Nemser, J. (2004). Enhancing the appeal of AAC technologies for young children: Lessons from the toy manufacturers. Augmentative and Alternative Communication. 20, 137-149.

Drager, K., Light, J., Curran-Speltz, J., Fallon, K., & Jeffries, L. (2003). The performance of typically developing 2 ½-year-olds on dynamic display AAC technologies with different system layouts and language organizations. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research , 46, 298-312. [Abstract]

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