The focus of this study day is on the language and communication opportunities of children and young people who are learning language using aided communication. It may be of interest to anyone involved in supporting the language development of aided communicators who use low-tech and/or high-tech systems.
The project Becoming an Aided Communicator (BAC): Aided Language Skills in Children aged 5–15 years: A Multi-site and Cross-cultural Investigation includes researchers from 16 countries and several sub-studies. Building on ideas from usage-based theories of language development, the aim of the project was to get insights into the typical course and the variation that exists in aided language development. This required a large group study.
The BAC project, led by Professor Stephen von Tetzchner, investigated aided communication in a select group of 5–15-year-olds with aided language as their main mode of communication, most of them with severe motor impairments due to cerebral palsy. They were not considered intellectually disabled by their teachers and did not have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. There was also a reference group of children matched for age and gender, without any known learning problems.
The focus was on the language achievements of the aided communicators, on their use of graphic symbols as functional linguistic elements rather than written forms corresponding to the spoken language. Particular interest was given to how they utilized their communication aids and solved communicative challenges in diverse everyday interactions. There are few studies of aided communicators telling about events that are unknown to their communication partner, and judging from the literature, aided communicators seem to have limited experience with this kind of conversation. The insights into aided language development and how aided communicators and their partners interact are needed for an optimal support of aided language development.
The BAC Contribution
The BAC tasks were designed to include different aspects of aided language comprehension and use, many of which are rarely addressed in aided language research. The comprehension part includes recognition of individual graphic symbols and a variety of tasks requiring understanding of sentences of different complexities, and stories. All the comprehension tasks were made with the graphic system each child was using or had used prior to becoming a speller. The children used their own communication aids in the production tasks. These include naming of objects, description of objects without naming, description of static scenes on pictures and dynamic events on video, completion of pragmatic cartoons and instructing partners to construct various toys. The ability to relay new information to other people is the core of human language and in most of the tasks, the child had to relay information and instructions that were novel and unknown to the communication partner. The project also included interviews with parents and teachers about the aid language history of the child and his or her educational history.
For more information about the BAC project, see Special BAC Issue, Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 34, no 1. and Stephen von Tetzchner (2022). Becoming an aided communicator (BAC) – Basic ideas and aims. Communication Matters, in press.