By Katie Frey
Michigan State University faculty members are wrapping up work on a grant funded by the US Department of Education to develop an online training program for paraeducators, teachers and families who support children who use augmentative and alternative communication systems. These systems, often paper-based with symbols or images but sometimes phone or tablet apps, allow children to select the symbols to communicate.
“The grant funded the development and testing of an online training program to support paraeducators and their supervising teachers to implement communication supports for young children who use augmentative and alternative communication systems,” said Dr. Sarah Douglas, MSU HDFS associate professor and grant principal investigator.
The first part of the training system teaches paraeducators and the teachers who support them about being a responsive partner to children with augmentative and alternative communication systems. The second part of the training teaches them how to model using augmentative and alternative communication systems to their students.
“When teaching a child, how to speak, I speak. But when I'm teaching a child how to use augmentative or alternative communication systems, I can't just speak. I have to use the same system they need to use,” she explained.
This is the first systematic development of a training system to support paraeducator implementation of communication supports to children who use augmentative and alternative communication systems. The training is broken up into small sections and also asynchronous, allowing teachers and paraeducators to complete the training in their own timeline. The teacher coaching also allows the intervention to mesh into existing educational structures. The program comes with materials they can use together as a team supporting each child.
The development of this training has special meaning for Dr. Douglas, a former teacher.
“As a former teacher, I supported young children who used augmentative and alternative communication, and I was in charge of training and supporting paraeducators who also supported them,” she said. “I had no training or knowledge of how to guide the paraeducators in this role, and needed a training just like the one we’ve created to best support my students.”
Dr. Sarah Douglas worked with other MSU HDFS faculty members Dr. Ryan Bowles (co-PI) and Sarah-Dunkel-Jackson (project manager) and alongside Dr. Josh Plavnick (co-PI) from the MSU College of Education. HDFS PhD child development students Tiantian Sun, Atikah Bagawan and numerous undergraduate research assistants in the RADD lab have also helped during this project funded through the Institute of Education Sciences (a branch of the U.S. Department of Education).
For the future of this project, Dr. Douglas and her team hope to make more refinements and scale up to invite more schools to participate in the next phase of their research.
To learn more about MSU Department of Human Development and Family Studies, visit hdfs.msu.edu.