Teaching Communication Skills to Students with Severe Disabilities / Edition 2

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How can educators and therapists best teach students with severe and multiple disabilities to communicate effectively? Developed by a highly respected expert, this practical guide has the comprehensive, research-based information professionals need to support students from preschool to high school as they learn and use communication skills. With a strong emphasis on students' need and right to communicate, this book shows readers how to analyze environments for their communicative value, assess students' communication skills, teach specific skills such as gaining attention and requesting, make informed choices about AAC, and guide peers and adults in supporting students with disabilities. In this expanded second edition, readers will also find timely new material on

  • the connection between literacy skills and general communication skills
  • students with disabilities learning side by side with students without disabilities
  • the critical role of communication in strengthening social relationships
  • national policies about the communicative rights of individuals with severe disabilities
  • a new tool that helps connect intervention with assessment

This book is accessible for both preservice and in-service professionals — it gives readers strategies they can use throughout a typical school day, real-life case studies of students of different ages, thoughtful answers to commonly asked questions, and tables that illustrate key points and summarize the strategies in simple steps. With the new edition of this popular resource, educators and therapists will help students with disabilities realize the benefits of effective communication: less frustration, more control over their lives, and stronger bonds with friends and family.

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Editorial Reviews

Gloria Soto

"An exciting contribution to the literature on communication intervention, inclusion and disability . . . readily accessible to both preservice and inservice professionals."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781557667557
  • Publisher: Brookes Publishing
  • Publication date: 6/1/2005
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 252
  • Sales rank: 359,761
  • Product dimensions: 6.80 (w) x 9.80 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

June E. Downing, Ph.D., prepares teachers to meet the needs of students with moderate to severe and multiple disabilities. In this capacity, she teaches courses, advises students, and supervises teachers in their practicum experiences. Dr. Downing has provided in-service training to teachers, administrators, parents, and support staff around the country. She has been interested in the education of students with severe and multiple disabilities (especially those with sensory impairments) since 1974 and has served as a paraprofessional, teacher, work experience coordinator, consultant, researcher, and teacher trainer. Areas of research include investigating related topics such as educating all students together, enhancing the social-communicative skills of students with severe disabilities, adapting for the unique needs of individual students, developing paraprofessional skills, and preparing teachers for inclusive education.

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Read an Excerpt

Copyright©2005 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Communication is the key to learning because a lot of what we learn depends on interactions with others. Every time at least two people come together, communication can occur. Although all human beings communicate, some individuals, due to the severity of their disabilities, may have limited communication skills. Individuals with severe and multiple disabilities may not have full access to or full control of the multiple means by which most individuals communicate (e.g., speech, facial expressions, body language, print). This inability to express themselves as others would does not mean that these individuals have nothing to say, nor does it diminish their need and right to communicate. Teachers and other service providers must respect this desire to communicate, using their expertise, experience, and commitment to make communication possible. Taking the stance that everyone has something to say is the least dangerous assumption and demonstrates the greatest level of respect (Cardinal, 2002). This chapter highlights the importance of supporting all communicative efforts of individuals who do not use speech as their primary mode of communication.


Many students with disabilities experience difficulties communicating. Emotional disorders can interfere with effective communication, especially in unfamiliar and stressful situations. Individuals with autism and severe developmental delays, as well as those with severe sensory impairments (vision or hearing or both; Arthur, 2003; Heller, Alberto, & Bowdin, 1995), may also find it difficult to communicate effectively. Certainly, a severe physical disability, especially when it is in addition to an intellectual impairment, can hinder the development of speech and language. The intricate physical movements of the oral musculature required for speech are negatively affected by a severe physical disability, and a severe intellectual impairment makes it very difficult for the individual to associate symbols with their referents. Individuals with severe cognitive disabilities often have difficulty acquiring an abstract means of communication, such as speech or American Sign Language (ASL). Essentially, any child who has a disability that interferes with the normal acquisition and development of language will experience difficulties in communicative exchanges (both receptively and expressively).

Some individuals have acquired a few speech skills that enable them to express basic concepts (e.g., requesting a desired food or activity). Limitations in using complex language patterns, however, hamper more abstract communication (e.g., discussing dreams, concerns, and/or future plans). Even though these individuals may have multiple means of communicating without abstract symbols, the ability to clearly express more complex thoughts and feelings is not possible without the use of some kind of system of representative symbols.

This book addresses the needs of children and youth whose severe disabilities make even the most basic interactions difficult. Many of these children use alternative forms of communication in their efforts to understand and be better understood by others. Because this is a large and extremely heterogeneous group of individuals, information in this book concentrates on those children and youth (ages 3–22) who receive their education in age-appropriate general education classes with the support of teachers, classmates, paraprofessionals, parents, administrators, and related services providers. General education classrooms afford both students and teachers with incredible opportunities for learning (Downing, 2002; Fisher & Meyer, 2002; Renzaglia, Karvonen, Drasgow, & Stoxen, 2003;

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Table of Contents

About the Author
Mary A. Falvey


  1. The Importance of Teaching Communication Skills
  2. Assessing Communication Skills
  3. Analyzing the Communicative Environment
  4. Augmentative and Alternative Communication Techniques
    Pat Mirenda
  5. Teaching Communication Skills: First Steps
  6. Teaching a Wide Range of Communication Skills
  7. The Role of Communicative Partners
    Eileen M. Merges, V. Mark Durand, and Lise M. Youngblade
  8. Integrating Team Expertise to Support Communication
  9. Commonly Asked Questions: Challenges to Effective Communication Intervention
Augmentative and Alternative Communication Resource List
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