The effect of aided language stimulation on vocabulary acquisition in children with little or no functional speech (summary)


There has been limited research into the role of the use of graphic symbols in helping the development of understanding of either spoken language or AAC symbols for people who use AAC.

Using augmented communication input can be a way of teaching the meaning and use of symbols to people who use AAC. It also provides a model of how an augmented system can be used and demonstrates the use of symbols in real situations. In addition this can transmit the message that using AAC systems to communicate is valued and to be encouraged and provides language input in the same mode as AAC users are later expected to use for expression.

What was the aim of the study?
The aim was to consider the effect of the use of Aided Language Stimulation (ALS), which refers to the communication partner of an AAC user pointing to pictures or symbols alongside the use of spoken language, on the vocabulary development of children with little or no functional speech over a three week period.

What did the authors do?
The research was carried out with a group of four children, aged from 8 to 12 years, who attended a school for pupils with learning disabilities. They all had expressive vocabularies of fewer than 15 intelligible words, no previous AAC intervention, and could select one from four line drawings in response to a spoken word.

The authors carried out the ALS intervention over a three week period. It consisted of three activities; arts and crafts, food preparation and story time, each carried out five times and with eight vocabulary items targeted in each. The sessions were all carried out with the whole group of participants together and a communication board was created for each activity. These were made up of 16 core symbols, the same on all boards, and 8 additional target items which varied for each activity.

The sessions lasted between 15 and 25 minutes and each activity was carried out for 5 consecutive days over the 3 week intervention period. During each session the target vocabulary items were each used three to five times by the researcher, combining the spoken word with pointing to the corresponding symbol. The target vocabulary was made up of three nouns and the rest mainly adjectives. The researchers aimed to use ALS to support at least 70% of their spoken output and a ratio of 80% comments to 20% questions.
What did they find?

All four of the participants showed an increase in their knowledge of the target vocabulary in all three activities over the period of the intervention. This was maintained in the weeks when an activity was not carried out.

The authors believe that this increase was most likely due to the use of ALS.

This was a small study and it cannot be concluded that the introduction of ALS was the only factor influencing changes or that the same effects would be found in all children with little or no functional speech. In addition no further assessments were carried out after the three week intervention period, so it is not known whether the increase in vocabulary knowledge was maintained.

The use of ALS to support the development of vocabulary knowledge and understanding seems to be beneficial for children with little or no functional speech, but further research is required.

Things you may want to look into:

Cognitive and language acquisition in typical and aided language learning: A review of recent evidence from an aided communication perspective

Framework for studying how children with developmental disabilities develop language through augmented means

Immersive Communication Intervention for Speaking and Non-speaking Children with Intellectual Disabilities

What is ALS? (PDF, 375KB)

Added to site July 2014