College of Education > News and Publications > News: Oct. - Dec. 2010 > New Book Co-Edited by McNaughton Addresses Alternative Communication, Includes Chapters by AAC Users

New Book Co-Edited by McNaughton Addresses Alternative Communication, Includes Chapters by AAC Users

A new book co-edited by David McNaughton looks at augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) and includes chapters by AAC users.

by David McNaughton (December 2010)

David McNaughton.jpgUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - People who have severe disabilities such as autism or cerebral palsy, and who are unable to speak, face numerous challenges as they make the transition from school to adult life. While at one time their communication options were extremely limited, the use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) technology, including speech-generating devices, can assist these individuals in communicating with others, notes a Penn State researcher.

“The ability to communicate provides a key support for participation in society,” says David McNaughton, professor of special education at Penn State. “In combination with teamwork between families and professionals, and appropriate educational services, young adults who use AAC can learn the transition skills needed to be full participants in society.”

McNaughton and David Beukelman (University of Nebraska, Lincoln) have drawn upon both the available research and the personal experiences of young adults who use AAC in creating a new book, Transition Strategies for Adolescents and Young Adults Who Use AAC (Brookes Publishing, 2010). The book addresses four key components of adult life for all individuals, including people who use AAC: having a safe place to live; participating in meaningful activities; maintaining a reliable source of income and access to needed services; and developing friendships and intimate relationships.

Many of the book’s chapters feature writing collaborations between leading researchers in the field of special education and adults who use AAC. The result is a publication that documents effective educational practices from both an academic and personal perspective.

“We wanted to create a text that would be of interest to university faculty, clinicians and educators, and people who use AAC and their families,” said McNaughton. “The discussion of the current research helps to ensure we are recommending practices that are supported by the available evidence. The contributions of people who use AAC helps to ensure that this is a book that speaks directly to the challenges faced by people who use AAC, and that it includes strategies and solutions that work in the ‘real world.’”

One chapter, which addresses employment issues, is co-authored by Anthony Arnold, an adult who uses AAC. In the chapter, Arnold—who works in technical support and product development for the Prentke-Romich Company—provides reflections on the importance of effective early intervention services that are delivered by special education teachers. Arnold’s reflections provide strong support for the importance of effective personnel preparation for teachers.

“Anthony clearly describes how special education teachers made a difference in his life,” said McNaughton. “One very caring teacher made it her priority to ensure that even though Anthony could not speak and could not participate in the typical reading instruction, he would learn to read. The individualized instruction provided by his teacher helped him acquire the literacy skills that resulted in employment success, working at a job that provides both income and the ability to have a positive impact on the world.”

Other co-authors of the chapter are McNaughton and Penn State graduate students Elizabeth Serpentine and Sam Sennott. (Sennott recently developed an iPhone application that allows people with speech disabilities to communicate by means of a text-to-speech voice output.)

To complement the book chapters, McNaughton worked with individuals who use AAC to create free webcasts on topics addressed in the book. “The webcasts are one more way to spread the message about the positive impact of AAC technology and effective special education services for young adults who use AAC,” said McNaughton.

McNaughton recently developed webcasts both on employment (co-presented by Arnold) and on postsecondary education for persons who use AAC (presented by Beth Anne Luciani).

“We use the webcast by Beth Anne Luciani, a young woman who uses AAC and who is enrolled at California University of Pennsylvania, in one of our classes for preservice general education teachers,” said McNaughton. In addition, some Penn State students have communicated with Luciani on her blog.

“I think the chance for preservice teachers to see the lives of adults who use AAC really gets them thinking about the importance of their work as teachers,” noted McNaughton. “These stories illustrate what the research tells us about the importance of teamwork with families and the need for effective educational practices. It helps the students to make a connection between what they are learning in their courses, and what they will be doing as teachers.”