Narrative skills of children who use AAC

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Telling stories is an important social skill, and one that may be challenging for children who use AAC. This study looked at stories told by 8- to 15-year-old children who use AAC with the support of a familiar communication partner. Children watched short, wordless videos that featured some sort of problem (like a person slipping on a banana peel) and then explained the story to someone who hadn’t seen it. Overall, children who used AAC produced narratives that were shorter and contained fewer important elements than those of same-age speaking peers, although “[t]opic maintenance and setting or character descriptions” were relative areas of strength. Communication partners typically elaborated on what children were saying without taking over the interaction, and there were no significant differences in story quality between types of communication partners (peers, parents, and professionals).

Some implications of the study:

  • Think about using narrative tasks to assess the ease and complexity of communication for children who use AAC—and remember to teach narrative structure, too!
  • Observe interactions with peers, parents, teachers, or other familiar communication partners to see how their assistance affects the child’s communication. You could also see what functions the partner is taking on—filling in details, compensating for lack of available vocabulary, etc.—and target those areas to increase independence.

Note that all children in this study had cerebral palsy and good receptive language and cognitive abilities per teacher report; it’s not clear how these findings would apply to children with different language and cognitive profiles.

Smith, M. M., Batorowicz, B., Dahlgren Sandberg, A., Murray, J., Stadskleiv, K., van Balkom, H., Neuvonen, K., & von Tetzchner, S. (2018). Constructing narratives to describe video events using aided communication. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 34(1), 40–53. doi: 10.1080/07434618.2017.1422018.