2001 Conference Proceedings

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Integrating Augmentative And Alternative Communication Into Inclusive Early Childhood Classrooms: A Synthesis Of Findings Across Three Classroom-Based Research Projects

Cynthia DiCarlo, M.Ed.
Meher Banajee, M.A., CCC-SLP
Sarintha Stricklin, Ph.D.
Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center
New Orleans, La.

Dennis Reid, Ph.D.
Carolina Behavior Analysis and Support Center
Morganton, N.C.
Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center
Human Development Center
Infant/Toddler and Family Services Program
1100 Florida Avenue Building #124
New Orleans, Louisiana 70119
(504) 942-8200
E-mail: cdicarlo@hdc.lsumc.edu

Proposal submitted for presentation at the Sixteenth Annual International Conference "Technology and Persons with Disabilities", March 19-24, 2001, Los Angeles, CA.

Integrating Augmentative And Alternative Communication Into Inclusive Early Childhood Classrooms: A Synthesis Of Findings Across Three Classroom-Based Research

Substantial research has indicated that assistive technology is useful in facilitating active participation of children with disabilities across multiple environments (cf., Butler, 1986; Horn & Warren, 1987; Paulsson & Christoffersen, 1984; Verburg, Snell, Pilkington, et al., 1984; Silverman, 1989; Sullivan & Lewis, 1990). Appropriate use of assistive technology can promote skill development across developmental domains and independence in children (cf., Behrman, Jones, & Wilds, 1989; Blackman, 1985; Church & Glennen, 1992; Cook & Hussey, 1995; Swinth & Case-Smith, 1993). One type of assistive technology is the focus of this presentation, augmentative and alternative communication systems.

Specifically, findings of three classroom-based research projects investigating related areas of augmentative and alternative communication will be described and practical implications for teachers, speech therapists, and families will be discussed. The three research projects investigated: a) effects of manual signing on communicative vocalizations by toddlers with and without disabilities in inclusive early intervention classrooms; b) core and fringe vocabulary of toddlers and effectiveness of use on augmentative communication devices within classroom activities; and c) the use of voice output to increase initiations of toddler with disabilities participating in inclusive early intervention classrooms. Findings of these research projects are described in the following sections. Implications for use of augmentative and alternative communication systems within inclusive early childhood classrooms form the conclusion of the proposal.

Effects of manual signing on communicative vocalizations by toddlers with and without disabilities in inclusive early intervention classrooms. Inclusive programs involving toddlers with and without disabilities are becoming increasingly common. However, little research has evaluated effects of specific aspects of inclusive services on participating toddlers who do not have disabilities. Due in part to parental concerns over a potentially reductive impact of manual signing on the communicative vocalizations of typically developing toddlers, we evaluated effects of manual signing by a classroom teacher on vocalizations of toddlers in two inclusive classrooms (total of 12 toddlers with disabilities and 11 without disabilities). Manual signing was sequentially introduced by the classroom teacher within ongoing vocal interactions with the toddlers in six play activities.

Results indicated that teacher signing was accompanied by increases in communicative interactions involving signing with the teacher by each group of toddlers with and without disabilities. No reductive effects on communicative vocalizations were observed for any toddler group. Vocalizations among the toddlers with and without disabilities continued at the overall baseline frequency while the signing program was in effect even though these toddlers began to use manual signing in their ongoing communicative interactions with the teacher. Such results would seem to offer encouragement for the utility of using manual signing as part of ongoing vocal interactions by staff in inclusive settings for toddlers. For the typically developing toddlers though, at this point it is not clear how using manual signing in addition to their vocal communicative interactions might benefit the toddlers. However, from the point of view of toddlers with disabilities, it would appear advantageous that their typically developing peers learn manual signing skills. Such skills would seem to enhance the likelihood of future interactions between toddlers with and without disabilities by providing the former toddlers with more potential communication partners who can communicate in the same manner as the toddlers with disabilities.

Core and fringe vocabulary of toddlers and effectiveness of use on augmentative communication devices within classroom activities. Issues surrounding vocabulary selection arise when creating age appropriate overlays for augmentative and alternative communication systems. Preliterate toddlers are unable to generate their own unique messages using letter by letter spelling. Typically, significant adults in the toddler’s life perform vocabulary selection for this age group. Researchers suggest assigning vocabularies to two groups: a) core vocabulary, which is vocabulary needed for participation across different contexts and activities; and b) fringe vocabulary, which is vocabulary specific to a particular activity or context. Most devices are programmed with fringe or context specific vocabulary. Speech pathologists are typically trained to determine fringe vocabulary by conducting an ecological inventory (observing typically developing peers and noting the vocabulary used by them during an activity). This vocabulary is context specific and does not necessarily generalize to other contexts.

There is a need for a core vocabulary that can be programmed on AAC systems for use by toddlers across multiple contexts. Previous research has investigated and determined core vocabularies for preschoolers and older individuals. However, the need to establish a core vocabulary list for toddlers existed. The purpose of this study was to collect language samples from speaking toddlers who were 24 to 36 months of age and analyze these samples for common words in order to develop a core vocabulary list.

Core vocabulary data was collected for 3 toddlers during two different activities (center time and snack time) within an inclusive early intervention classroom. Results of data analyses revealed that 16 words were used across both activities. This list of words contained pronouns, verbs, prepositions and demonstratives. Words representing different pragmatic functions also were noted. Nouns were found to be absent. These vocabulary findings of toddlers are similar to previous findings of studies of vocabulary of preschoolers, adolescents, and adults.

Using a multiple baseline single-subject design, fringe vocabulary was used along with core vocabulary on AAC systems with two nonverbal toddlers during snack time and free play activities. During baseline, only fringe vocabulary was used. When core vocabulary was added, an increase in use of the device was noted with both toddlers. Both toddlers combined core and fringe vocabulary words to form simple sentences. Expressive language of the second toddler increased whereas the expressive language of the first toddler increased at home (per parent report), although no difference was seen in the classroom setting.

One of the limitations of the core vocabulary research project was the small number of toddlers used to develop a core vocabulary list. A second research project was conducted with 50 toddlers from five different daycare centers. Although some differences were noted in the final vocabulary that was determined, similarities included the absence of nouns and the presence of pronouns, verbs, prepositions and demonstratives.

Use of voice output to increase initiations of young to with disabilities participating in inclusive early intervention classrooms. The benefits of voice output devices for nonverbal individuals have been reported throughout AAC literature. Use of voice output devices allow individuals to initiate communication, as well as respond to the communication of others. Many parents and professionals are intimated by the bells and whistles of high technology voice output devices. In addition to selecting vocabulary and programming devices, many feel that toddlers using the device will need to be trained. This additional task can be a potential barrier to parents, teachers, and therapists. However, it is possible to incorporate the use of voice output devices within the context of naturally occurring routines with no additional training of the toddler.

A multiple baseline study evaluated the effects of using voice output devices to facilitate communicative initiation behaviors of 2 toddlers who were developmentally delayed and nonverbal. Data were collected during snack time on specific communication behaviors. Both toddlers increased their specific initiations (communication attempts that can be identified for a particular item or action). No formal training was provided. Adults modeled the use of the device within the context of the routine. Comparisons with a typically developing peer suggested the voice output device enabled both toddlers to increase their specific initiated communication behavior closer to that of the peer. Results support the use of augmentative voice output devices with nonverbal toddlers.

Practical implications of research findings for integrating augmentative and alternative communication within early childhood classrooms. Although continued research is needed, data from these three classroom-based research projects provide initial evidence supporting the use of augmentative and alternative communication systems within inclusive early intervention classrooms. When embedded within classroom centers and routine activities, augmentative and alternative communication can be useful in facilitating participation by increasing initiations and interactions.

The use of multiple systems, including sign language and voice output devices, expands a child’s opportunities to communicate, providing the toddler with increased opportunities to initiate, make choices, or terminate activities. To be effective, voice output devices and sign language should be used throughout the classroom to promote communication within different centers and activities. The combination of core and fringe vocabularies allows toddlers to create novel utterances and should be incorporated while using the voice output devices.

The use of augmentative and alternative communication can increase opportunities for participation of all toddlers. Embedding technology into classroom center and activities will provide multiple opportunities to practice new skills and gain success. With repeated use by toddlers and adults, augmentative communication will become a natural part of the classroom.

References

Behrman, M.M., Jones, T.K., & Wilds, M.L. (1989). Technology intervention for very young children with disabilities. Infants and Young Children, 1(4), 66-77.

Blackman, J.A. (1995). Technology in early intervention. Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Publishers.

Butler, C. (1986). Effects of powered mobility on self-initiated behaviors of very young children with locomotor disability. Developmental and Medical Considerations in Child Neurology, 28, 325-332.

Church, G., & Glennen, S. (1992). The handbook of assistive technology. San Diego, CA: Singular Publishing.

Cook, A. M., & Hussey, S. M. (1995). Assistive technologies: Principles and practice. St. Louis, MO: Mosby.

Horn, E.M., & Warren, S. F. (1987). Facilitating the acquisition of sensorimotor behavior with a microcomputer-mediated teaching system: An experimental analysis. Journal of the Association for Severe Handicaps, 12, 205-215.

Paulsson, K., & Christoffersen, M. (1984). Psychosocial aspects of technical aids - How does independent mobility affect the psychosocial and intellectual development of children with physical disabilities. Proceedings from the Second International Conference on Rehabilitation Engineering, 282-286.

Silverman, F. (1986). Impacts of augmentative communication intervention on behavior. Communication for the Speechless. Prentice Hall: NY.

Sullivan, M. & Lewis, M. (1990). Contingency, means-end skills, and the use of technology in infant intervention. In J.A. Blackman (Ed.), Technology in early intervention (pp. 49-75). Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Publishers.

Swinth, Y., & Case-Smith, J. (1993). Assistive technology in early intervention: Theory and practice. In J. Case-Smith (Ed.), Pediatric occupational therapy and early intervention, (pp. 342-368). Newton, MA: Reed Publishing.

Verburg, G., Snell, E., Pilkington, M., et al. (1984). Effects of powered mobility on young handicapped children and their families. Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Rehabilitation Engineering, 172-173.


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