Taking a closer look at doctoral student AAC coursework

studentsThe AAC Leadership Project is a doctoral fellowship program designed to not only develop high-quality researchers and teachers, but scholars in the field of AAC. In order to do so, students on the grant participate in a set of core courses dedicated to AAC. Today, we’d like to give you a glimpse into one of these core courses and highlight the impactful work of our scholars as a result of their course participation.

Course Overview

Individuals with complex communication needs (CCN) and their families are a highly diverse group who experience unique combinations of cultural variables (e.g., factors related to age, disability, social environment, socio-economic class, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, language, culture, religion, national origin, citizenship, immigration status, etc.). In many cases, these factors may compound the challenges experienced by individuals with CCN and their families, increasing their needs even further.

The course, Research & Evidence-Based Interventions to Improve Services and Results for Individuals with Complex Communication Needs with High Needs, is designed to prepare doctoral students to conduct research, provide research-based training, implement effective, culturally competent, evidence-based intervention, and effect system change to improve outcomes for individuals who require AAC who have high needs and their families.

The course is taught as a seminar class, covering various topics related to individuals with CCN who present with high needs. This past Spring, the students in the course covered the following topics:

  1. an overview of issues of individual identity, family systems theory, and ecological systems theory and the implications of these theories for AAC research and culturally competent practice;
  2. the impact of poverty and the implications for service delivery in low resource countries and areas;
  3. the impact of linguistic diversity and the implications for supporting effective communication;
  4. health care/educational disparities and the implications for service delivery;
  5. the risk for and effects of child maltreatment/bullying and the implications for practice; and
  6. issues related to mental health and the implications for service delivery.

Each topic covered 2-3 weeks. The first week(s) in the sequence involved guest presentations from key experts. The subsequent weeks involved in-depth discussions, including reviewing the research, considering the implications for individuals with CCN, determining directions for future research, and designing studies to advance the field. 

Final Projects

Participation in the seminar includes the development of a final project to advance understanding, define future research, build capacity, effect system change, and/or improve evidence-based practice for individuals who require AAC who experience high needs. Titles and brief summaries of projects from the most recent seminar are included below:

Emily Laubscher, doctoral student in CSD

Effecting System Change to Improve Outcomes for Individuals who Require Augmentative and Alternative Communication

The purpose of this paper was to draw on ecological systems theory and models of system change to develop theoretically sound guidelines for effecting change to improve communication outcomes and quality of life for individuals who require AAC. 




Ciara Ousley, doctoral student in SPLED

“Everybody Had His Best Interest in Mind”: Perspectives from Multiple Members of the Micro-/Mesosystem on AAC Services for an Individual with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Guided by the theoretical framework for effective family-centered AAC services developed by Mandak, O’Neill, Light, & Fosco (2017), I explored how the perspectives of the multiple members of an individuals micro- and mesosystem related. I interviewed the parents, siblings, special educator, speech-language pathologist, and paraprofessional of a 10-year-old male with autism spectrum disorder that used a high-tech AAC device. 


Naima Bhana, doctoral student in SPLED

Conversations with Panamanian Parents Regarding Their Children with Disabilities and AAC

This pilot study sought to establish a literature base on the available AAC services in the Latin America and Caribbean region (LAC) region by interviewing parents in one country in this region, Panama. Eight semi-structured, asynchronous online interviews via e-mail and instant messaging applications with parents of individuals with disabilities were conducted to answer the questions: (a) What do Panamanian parents know about AAC? (b) How do they feel about their child using AAC to communicate? (c) What are some barriers to successful AAC implementation in Panama?  


Sojung Jung, doctoral student in SPLED

Family-centered Services for Students with Complex Communication Needs (CCN): The Perceptions and Experiences of Special Education Teachers in South Korea

This study used an online focus group to examine the perceptions and experiences of special education teachers related to the family-centered services for complex communication needs in South Korea. Participants showed that providing educational services involving family is important but they experienced some barriers and limitations. 


For more information about the AAC Leadership Project, please email Dr. Janice Light (JCL4@psu.edu).

For a recruitment flyer, click here

The AAC Leadership Project is funded by the U.S. Department of Education (H325D170024). 

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