Characterizing the subtle communication of children with complex communication needs

This study offers an alternative to standardized approaches for identifying and quantifying the subtle communicative bids of children with severe to profound communication and learning needs. A structured observation of three children’s entire school day was performed, along with completion of four SCERTS checklists for each child.
The three children each had their own idiosyncratic methods for communicating—some as subtle as facial expression—and the researchers found that most adults working with the children recognized these communicative attempts. However, they also observed, “marked inconsistencies in the extent to which children’s bids for interaction developed into a reciprocal exchange,” meaning some communication partners were far more effective in either recognizing and/or responding to the children's communication than others. The authors emphasize that, “Understanding how children can be supported to exchange in reciprocal interaction is important because these interactions play a critical role in the development of children’s expressive language.”
Though this study may be a useful approach for recognizing and quantifying children with very low levels of expressive communication's expressive output (and adults' responses) two cons can be identified: (1) Total observation time is quite high. A clinician may have difficulty wiping the calendar to spend an entire day focusing on only one child, combined with time set aside to interpret the data, and (2) You can't replicate the methods used in this study without purchasing the SCERTS checklists.

Greathead, S., Yates, R., Hill, V., Kenny, L., Croydon, A., & Pellicano, E. (2016). Supporting Children With Severe-to-Profound Learning Difficulties and Complex Communication Needs to Make Their Views Known: Observation Tools and Methods. Topics in Language Disorders, 36(3), 217–244.