Online Training for Paraeducators to Support the Communication of Young Children with Complex Communication Needs

child with teacher

Douglas, S., Light, J., & McNaughton, D. (July, 2012).  Online Training for Paraeducators to Support the Communication of Young Children with Complex Communication Needs.  Presentation at 15th Biennial Conference of the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC) in Pittsburgh, PA.

Learning to make effective use of AAC systems for communication requires support from communication partners (Light, 2003), and is best taught within the context of motivating, age-appropriate interactions (Merges, Durand, & Youngblade, 2005).  For young children, play provides a natural, motivating context for learning communication skills (Patterson & Westby, 1994).  However, if children are to benefit from participation in these contexts, communication partners, including paraeducators who work in early childhood special education settings, need to provide appropriate supports to help children develop communication skills (Light, 2003).

This research project examined the effect of online training for paraeducators to support the communication of young children with CCN during play and generalization activities. The content of training was driven by research in early childhood development and communication and based on research in the area of communication partners as summarized by Light and Drager (2010). During the online training paraeducators were taught the three steps of the  PoWR strategy.

1) Provide opportunities for communication
included teaching paraeducators to provide multiple communication opportunities to their target child by asking questions, commenting about the activity, and providing choices (Fox et al., 1997).

2) Wait for child’s communication
paraeducators learned to wait for at least five seconds after offering a communication opportunity so the child had adequate time to respond (Downing, 2005; Klein, Cook, & Richardson-Gibbs, 2001; Otto, 2010).

3) Respond to child’s communication
taught paraeducators to respond when the child communicates, even if the communication is unclear (Allen & Hart, 1984; Cress & Marvin, 2003; Snell, 2002; Snyder & Sheehan, 1996; Zangari & Kangas, 1997).  If the child did not communicate after five seconds, the paraeducator was taught to provide another opportunity for communication.

Data were collected during three phases in the study (baseline, training, and maintenance).  Paraeducators participated in play sessions during each phase of the study, and generalization sessions during baseline and maintenance.  Sessions were standardized and analyzed for frequency of dependent variables. Reliability and procedural fidelity measures were conducted.  Results from this study suggest that the online training provided to paraeducators in this study had a positive effect on the number of communication opportunities provided by all paraeducators.  Results also indicate that online paraeducator training increased the number of communication turns taken by children, and the number of responses provided by paraeducators.

For more information, please email Sarah Douglas

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