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First Contact Survey: Profiles of Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities and Complex Communication Needs

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Understanding the characteristics of students with complex communication needs (CCN) and significant cognitive disabilities (SCD) is an important first step toward creating the kinds of supports required to successfully access the general education curriculum and learn in ways that reflect grade level standards. This session will report on findings from a national survey that was designed to provide teachers in the United States with a way to report important information about students with SCD who were eligible to take the Dynamic Learning Maps™ (DLM®) Alternate Assessment. A total of 44,787 surveys were completed about students who were going to take the alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards. The sample includes a large number of students with SCD and CCN. The language, sensory, motor and learning profiles of students with SCD in the sample differed based on primary means of communication. The majority of students in the sample used speech to communicate and their abilities exceeded that of students known to use AAC or sign language in areas of receptive language understanding, expressive language use, reading and writing. Complexity of symbolic language use differed significantly, with approximately 70% of students known to use speech able to combine three or more words when speaking, while nearly 80% of students known to only use AAC were limited to the use of one symbol at a time for a restricted range of purposes. Information regarding these differences has important implications for practice, policy, development, and future research.


Karen Erickson    
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
United States

Lori Geist    
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
United States


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