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Using the iPad to support peer interaction for preschool children with complex communication needs

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Social interaction is a key element of education for all children, and yet children with complex communication needs often face social isolation, rarely interacting with same-age peers. A common strategy employed to increase social interaction involves teaching peers the skills needed to support interactions with children who use AAC. Although sometimes effective, this practice establishes a relationship of imbalance. The aim of this study was to develop an intervention that supported positive social interaction, while giving both children equal opportunities to participate and engage.
A single-subject, multiple baseline across partners design was used to evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention on the frequency of communicative turns expressed by the children with complex communication needs in interactions with their peers. The intervention included two components, provision of an iPad with preprogrammed visual scene displays and a training in how to use this support to communicate and engage in an activity.
As a result of intervention, participant 1 showed immediate gains in number of symbolic communicative turns after the first training session across all three partners and demonstrated average gains of 30-46 communicative turns per 10-minute session across peer partners. Participant 2 also showed gains after one or two training sessions with two of three partners, with average gains of 11-24 turns across partners.
The study extends the evidence on how to facilitate and encourage social interaction between children with complex communication needs and their peers, and lays a foundation for future research into evidence-based supports for peer interaction.


Michelle Therrien    
Penn State University
United States

Janice LIght    
Penn State University
United States


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