by Julia Wynne, MA, CCC-SLP (Speech-Language Pathologist); NWACS Contributor
As our minds wander to the summer months and the schedules of our child and adolescent augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) learners change, we start to think about creative ways to use and integrate AAC into our daily lives. One way is to incorporate AAC into play activities. Play is a meaningful and motivating childhood activity that promotes the development of communication in a variety of ways. It is unknown how limited access to play for children with complex motor needs affects their ability to develop aided language. This month we will explore an article by researchers from Canada and Norway who investigated the use of communication aids during construction play. Construction play is vital to learning and talking about the physical world. However, it may not be possible for children with severe motor impairments to access these activities. It is through language that these children can participate actively in play.
I will start by explaining some key terms, and then share the research question and why this information is essential to know. I will follow that with the authors’ conclusions and some critical takeaways so that we can apply this research to teaching our AAC learners. Here we go!
Aided Communication/Language: communication that requires something external to the body to represent meaning, for example pointing to a symbol in a communication book
Barrier Games: involves two individuals sitting across from one another with a barrier between them (such as an easel) and each with identical objects; one player directs the other on how to set up the objects
Communication Aid: equipment/technology (low or high) that uses pictures/symbols and/or text to help an individual communicate, also known as an AAC system
Construction Play: consists of activities during which something is created or built (stacking blocks, making clay figures)
Referential communication: naming or describing objects, people, places, or actions so that another person can identify them
Natural Speech: spoken language
The questions asked in the article are:
How do children using communication aids perform in comparison to their partners in a goal-oriented interaction?
Are there interactions between the success of the child and their characteristics, the contributions of their partners, or the time spent interacting?
Do the children using the communication aids give instructions that are similar or different to typically developing children?
Construction play accounts for more than 50% of children’s play activity in preschool settings. Children with complex motor needs are not able to access these activities as easily as their peers, if at all. Play interactions involving children who use communication aids are usually dominated by the communication partner. These children are typically making choices presented by their communication partners. The speaking partners tend to take the lead in these play activities. Directing another person in an interaction allows the use of referential communication. This type of communication can be taught using barrier games. It is important to study the use of these types of games and activities in which complex communicators are directing the communication interaction so that children with motor impairments can participate in language learning activities involving manipulating or moving objects.
The present study looked at how children aged 5-15 years with motor impairments who use communication aids gave instruction to peers and adults who do not know the context. The study included 18 children who use communication aids and 17 peers of the same age and gender who communicate using natural speech. The children in the natural speech groups used more details in their descriptions. It took the children who used communication aids 5 times longer to solve the tasks than their peers who used natural speech. Children who used scanning needed twice as much time as the other children in the AAC group. Children using communication aids who provided more specific instructions and named more elements correctly were able to solve tasks more successfully.
The results of the study showed that the children successfully communicated instructions to peers using self-generated messages. Activities similar to the one explored in the study, constructing a model, may provide opportunities for engaging children who use communication aids in problem-solving, as well as creating their own messages. The research also suggests that coaching partners to give sufficient wait time, attend, and allow the child using aided communication to lead might be essential to successful communication.
This study brought light to the use of communication aids to communicate self-generated instructions for children with severe motor impairments. The tasks provided the opportunity for the children to use authentic communication rather than just respond to a communication partner. Providing instructions through aided language allow people with motor impairments or limited speech to act on the world through others. This type of communication may be necessary for developing independence later in life.
Please comment with any thoughts or questions!
Full article link: https://doi.org/10.3109/07434618.2016.1160150
Images include Boardmaker PCS. The Picture Communication Symbols ©1981–2018 by Mayer-Johnson LLC. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Used with permission.
Beata Batorowicz, Kristine Stadskleiv, Stephen von Tetzchner & Cheryl Missiuna (2016) Children Who Use Communication Aids Instructing Peer and Adult Partners During Play-Based Activity, Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 32:2, 105-119, DOI: 10.3109/07434618.2016.1160150
You can read other posts in our AACademics series by clicking HERE