Literacy and Augmentative Alternative Communication: Learn More!

  • Posted on: 2 December 2013
  • By: Tina McCoy

By Heather Gray, M.S., CCC-SLP, ATP

 Did you know it is estimated that less that 10% of people who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) can read and comprehend beyond a 2nd grade level (Erickson, 2003)?  Reading is a crucial life skill, important not only for education and employment purposes, but also as a leisure activity.  Can you imagine a day without reading text messages, emails, magazines, or curling up with a good book? 

 How do schools rise to the challenge of teaching literacy to students who use AAC?  Students who use augmentative communication often have complex physical, medical, and sensory needs, which impact their ability to learn and demonstrate what they know.  What resources are available to learn more about evidence-based, research on successful literacy instruction for students who use AAC?   The following resources are a great place to start to learn more on best practices in literacy education for students who use AAC:  The purpose of the AAC RERC (Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center) is to disseminate information and research about AAC. It is affiliated with Pennsylvania State University, and contains a multitude of free resources and webinars from current researchers in this field.  For instance a free webcast, “Maximizing the Literacy Skills of Individuals who Require AAC” with Janice Light.   This is another excellent resource from Penn State.  It provides an overview of successful research-based literacy interventions with children who use AAC.  It includes video clips of students in action, as well as links to research, curriculum, and additional information.  Do not forget about Bookshare!  This is free, online book reader for any U.S. student with a print disability.  This is the website for the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies through UNC-Chapel Hill.  It includes research, materials, as well as a curriculum.  There are specific portions of the website and examples of teaching literacy to students with very complex needs, such as, Deaf Blind Model Classroom Resources. The practical AAC website lists tons of hands-on, easy to implement ideas for making literacy meaningful, functional, and accessible.  The author has extremely creative ideas for incorporating literacy into children’s interests.   It also includes many links for adapted textbook libraries. Dr. Paula Kluth is a researcher in the areas of literacy and inclusive classrooms.  She has practical strategies for assistive technology supports, as well as research and resources for teaching literacy to students with autism spectrum disorders.  This is a collection of free, easy to read, accessible books.  They can be accessed via a touchscreen, switches, Intellikeys, or a mouse.  It includes a searchable database, so one can easily locate books related to a curricular topic, or find what is motivating for a particular student.