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The Effects of Embedding Augmentative and Alternative Communication within Storybook Reading and Play Time for Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Research Team


Principal Investigator: Ciara Ousley

Funding Information

Funding Agency: Office of Research and Economic Development—Layman Award

Award Date: Aug 1, 2023

End Date: Jul 31, 2024


Roughly 6.87 million children in the United States have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and have not developed functional vocal speech. These children cannot communicate with their voice and may require augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), such as speech-generating devices, to support, supplement or replace vocal speech.

Early interventions that incorporate AAC are embedded within natural contexts — such as play time, for example — and target social communication skills may lead to increases in language, social skills and play skills. 

However, introducing augmentative and alternative communication systems within social communication interventions can lead to increases in cognitive demands on the child (i.e., child focusing on three items: the AAC system, communication partner and activity), and heightened challenges on the communication partner (i.e., communication partner focusing on the evidence-based strategies, AAC system and activity).

Limited data exists on how AAC can be incorporated within storybook reading and play time interactions with young autistic children. This project aims to evaluate the effects of embedding AAC within storybook reading and play time with young children, ages 2-5, with ASD who have limited to no vocal speech using a series of single-case experimental designs.

Researchers will conduct these experiments with assistance from student workers and will collaborate with autistic stakeholders to ensure the intervention and supports are ecologically valid. Funding this project will lead to tailoring the intervention to be more feasible, accessible and effective for parents and caregivers of children with ASD. 

Social, Emotional and Behavioral Well-being, Early Childhood Education and Development

Ciara Ousley, assistant professor of special education and communication disorders, is evaluating the effects of augmentative and alternative communication on children with autism.
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