Including preschool peers in AAC intervention

When talking about preschoolers who require AAC, we all know the importance of communication partners in supporting interactions. As SLPs, we model, we wait, we do all the right things to promote communication. But is there more we can do?  How can we make an even bigger impact? How about training peers to be responsive communication partners?

The authors of this study included preschool peers in their SGD intervention for a large group of nonverbal preschoolers with ASD. Half of the peers were taught how to be responsive communication partners, and half of the peers were not. The trained peers were taught a modified version of Stay-Play-Talk, an evidence-based preschool program (Goldstein et al., 1997), which included the following steps:

  • Stay with your friend (sit close)
  • Play with your friend (share and take turns)
  • Talk with your friend (look at your buddy, listen, push picture, say words out loud)
  • Get attention and Hold and wait

After the peers were trained, they interacted and played with their classmates with ASD with an iPad programmed with relevant vocabulary to match the play context. There was also always a trained staff member guiding the interaction. The untrained peers played with their classmates with ASD as usual. Again, a staff member was present, doing what they would normally do during the activity. 

Following training, the children with ASD who played with the trained peers communicated more during the interactions and showed more balanced responses and initiations (they contributed more equally to the interaction) than the children who played with the untrained peers.  They also generalized their communication improvements to new settings with trained peers and to familiar settings with untrained peers.  

The really cool part about the peer training?  It only took a handful of short sessions over 2–3 days (80 minutes total)! So the next time you’re working with preschoolers with ASD who use AAC, let’s not forget about the invaluable communication partners sitting right beside you in the classroom.  Peers without disabilities can be taught to interact effectively with children using SGDs, and in the end, this could have implications that even go beyond communication (think: social participation and friendship development).

Note: We’ve seen research on Stay-Play-Talk before! See here.


Thiemann-Bourque, K., Feldmiller, S., Hoffman, L., & Johner, S. (2018). Incorporating a peer-mediated approach into speech-generating device intervention: Effects on communication of preschoolers with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. Advance online publication. doi:10.1044/2018_JSLHR-L-17-0424