Young Children & Communication

Young Children & Communication | | Communication is Part of Learning & Development | Assistive Technology (AT) for Young Children | Communication Supports | Resources for AT & Young Children

Communication is Part of Learning & Development

About Young Children's Communication

According to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA):
"Speech and language skills are essential to academic success and learning. Language is the basis of communication. Reading, writing, gesturing, listening, and speaking are all forms of language. Learning takes place through the process of communication. The ability to communicate with peers and adults in the educational setting is essential for a student to succeed in school." (Source:

If you have questions about typical development of communication skills, review the information ASHA provides here:

More Than Baby Talk: 10 Ways to Promote the Language and Communication Skills of Infants and Toddlers, by Nicole Gardner-Neblett and Kathleen Gallagher, describes ten practices that can be used to foster language and communication skills among infants and toddlers. These practices can be used by teachers and parents alike and are based on the latest research findings on optimal adult-child interactions for promoting strong language and communication skills among young children. To read more about the 10 ways to promote language in your infant or toddler, click here.

Assistive Technology (AT) for Young Children

Helping Tools
at ei examples.JPG
Picture examples of AT for young children.

Did you know...
  • You can adjust the room, the activity, or the materials to help a child?

There are Helping Tools:
  • You can make, modify, or buy (from specialty store) adapted items
  • That help kids (with disabilities or delays) participate with their peers

Helping tools (also called Assistive Technology) can help with:
  • Getting Around
  • Seating / Positioning
  • Using Arms and Legs
  • Feeding
  • Playing and Learning
  • Communicating

Presentation - Apps for Infants?!?

View this presentation (below or handout view PDF file) to learn why and how mobile technology (game players, iPads, tablets) are being used to help young children learn and develop.

See iTechnology page for more information about this topic..

Communication Supports

What Is AAC?

Children with delays and disabilities may need extra support to learn and develop communication. The definition of assistive technology from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA – 34CFR§300.5, includes:
  • Any item, piece of equipment, or product system”
  • “Whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized”
  • “That is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability”

This means that assistive technology for communication (also called Augmentative and Alternative Communication or AAC) could be:
  • Low-tech: something as simple as pictures found in magazines, toy catalogs, or advertisements made into a picture book (i.e., "customized" item)
  • Mid-tech: devices that can record and play back speech, like a Talking Photo Album (i.e., "commercially off the shelf"; for example, Hallmark or online)
  • High-tech: equipment that can generate speech, similar to a specialized computer (i.e., "product system" from AAC manufacturers).
  • See AAC 101 page for more information about the range of AAC available.

Why Use It?

Young children who have difficulty communicating, may resort to behaviors (e.g., crying, tantrums, hitting) to express themselves. By giving them another way to "talk," they can learn that they can use "words" (or pictures, or signs) to get what they want, instead of actions.

A review of past studies and research on the subject determined that “appropriate AAC intervention results in positive gains in skills such as:”
  • Turn taking
  • Requesting
  • Commenting
  • Receptive & Expressive vocabulary
  • Mean length of message
  • Morphology
  • Phonological awareness
  • Reading & writing skills
        • Light, J., & McNaughton, D. (2012). Supporting the Communication, language, and Literacy Development of Children with Complex Communication Needs: State of the Science and Future Research Priorities. Assistive Technology, 24 (1), 34-44.

Also, according to research, there is “strong evidence that AAC interventions result in significant decreases in challenging behaviors with concomitant increases in compliance and on-task behaviors."
        • Bopp, K. D., Brown, K. E., & Mirenda, P. (2004). Speech-language pathologists' roles in the delivery of positive behavior support for individuals with developmental disabilities. American Journal of Speech - Language Pathology,13(1), 5-19.

And the best part is, these “Positive effects of AAC intervention on communication, language, and literacy skills come at no risk to speech development”!
        • Light & McNaughton, 2012

To send the point home, here is a personal look at the benefits of introducing an Alternative/Augmentative Communication (AAC) Device to a young child. Dana Neider blogs about the "life changing" discovery of AAC. Maya, Dana's 5 year old daughter, has a communication disorder and is able to speak 15-20 words. After purchasing the Speak for Yourself App placed on Maya's iPad, she is now able to communicate around 700 words. Dana also gives tips and suggestions for incorporating AAC into your child's life. Read more of Dana's blog and about the impact that AAC has had on the entire family.

But Won't It...?

Parents have many questions about using AAC with their children. Here are some common MISconceptions about AAC. There is research to explain why each of these statements are NOT TRUE. For more information, see the Frequently Asked Questions page (Coming Soon).
  • Any child under 30 months is too young to intervene with AAC.
  • If you intervene with AAC, the child won’t be motivated to learn to talk.
  • If you intervene with an AAC device and then the child ends up talking, you will have wasted all that money.
  • There’s no way to get those devices funded, anyway.
  • Parents (or other children, or teachers) will reject AAC.
  • You should wait until you have tried to get the child to talk. If they don't learn it, THEN you should start to think about AAC.

Presentation for Parents

View this presentation (below or PDF file of handout) to learn about using "helping tools" (assistive technology) to help young children participate.

Presentation for Professionals

View this presentation (below or PDF file of handout) to learn about using "helping tools" (assistive technology) to help young children participate.

Resources for AT & Young Children

Communication Supports Inventory- Children & Youth (CSI-CY)-
The CSI-CY is composed of a survey and a report to help professionals (teachers, SLPs) develop educational plans and goals for students who are AAC users or potential AAC users. The CSI-CY serves as a guide for organizing a student's needs in the classroom and at home based on the child's communication strengths and communication limitations.

Want to find out more?

Explore ideas online

Tots 'n Tech -

The Tots 'n Tech Research Institute (TnT) is an inter-university collaboration between Thomas Jefferson University (TJU), Philadelphia and Arizona State University (ASU), Tempe. TnT’s mission is to provide up-to-date information and resources about adaptations, including assistive technology, to use with infants and toddlers for states, Early Intervention providers of all disciplines, and families across the country.

TnT Newsletter
The TnT Newsletter provides information about assistive technology for young children. New editions are sent by e-mail every 2-4 months. Visit the above website to read and/or download past issues.

The March 2012 edition contains information on embedding assistive technology into children's daily activities and routines through use of the iPad. To read all about it, click here to view or download the PDF file.


TnT HelpDesk -
The TnT Helpdesk is designed to help you easily find resources that may be useful. The best way to start is by thinking about the circumstances where you require help with assistive technology for young children. Then y
ou can click on one of the four functional areas below, or type keywords in the search function (e.g., help with storytime). If you are looking for printable picture resources please click on the picture webliography link.

For more ideas about using the Helpdesk, read the November 2011 TnT newsletter by clicking here (PDF file).

Try AT for Yourself


Borrow Assistive Technology to try with your child for free!
  • Pennsylvania’s Initiative on Assistive Technology (PIAT) runs a free statewide AT Lending Library.
  • For more information about tools you can try:
    • Call PIAT at 800-204-7428
    • E-mail at
    • Explore the website (

Teaching & Learning Collaborative (TLC) at Jefferson -

Ask for an Assistive Technology (AT) consult for your team
  • TLC at Jefferson offers trainings and support for teachers and families.
  • Talk to your team about an in-home visit (Philadelphia only) with staff to explore AT together. Go to the TLC website and “Request Technical Assistance for a Family” to fill out the referral form.

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