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Interactive Phonemic Awareness for Students with Complex Communication Needs: Apps Included

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Phonemic awareness refers to the ability to focus on and manipulate letters in spoken words. Research shows that phonemic awareness is predictive of and a cornerstone of literacy success. We know that conscious, analytic knowledge is important. Research shows that students with complex communication needs often struggle with phonemic awareness. This presentation will begin with a brief overview of the research on phonemic awareness for typically developing children, with special focus on findings of the National Reading Panel Report. We will also summarize research focusing on people with complex communication needs.

We will quickly progress to describing specific tasks for supporting the development of phonemic awareness. Sample tasks include phoneme isolation, phoneme identity, and phoneme deletion. Both light and high tech strategies will be suggested for scaffolding phonemic awareness, including adaptations for students who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). Often, tasks are presented as ‘tests’ (“Tell me the first sound in ‘cat’.”) We will suggest strategies that focus on teaching rather than simply testing. These strategies follow Musselwhite’s AAIF Rule (adapted, authentic, individualized, as well as being fun and interactive).

Strategies suggested can be used in a variety of settings, including special education classrooms, general education classrooms, therapy settings, and homes. We will also review fun and engaging apps to scaffold phonemic awareness instruction.


Caroline Musselwhite    
AAC Intervention
United States

Laurie McCarthy-Meyer    
Parent of person who uses AAC
United States


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