"Let's go star fishing": Reflections on the contexts of language learning for children who use aided AAC

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A full account of language development must consider not only the child's characteristics and skills but also the environment for language learning. The language learning environment can be conceptualized as a complex network of interrelated contexts including the physical, functional, language, social, and cultural contexts. The physical context is defined by the people, objects, and events within the physical environment; the child's access to the physical context impacts conceptual development and forms the foundation for lexical development. The functional context refers to the structure and function of daily activities; it is the functional context that determines the time and place accorded to language learning within the child's daily life. The language context refers to the actual language code(s) within the child's environment, the "tools" of communication. For the child with severe physical and speech impairments, these tools include receptive skills and as many expressive skills as possible in the language code(s) spoken by the family and broader social community. The tools also include skills in the "language code" of the augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) system(s) as channels of expressive (and sometimes of receptive) communication. The social context refers to the interactions that occur between the child who uses AAC and others, and the patterns of language use within these interactions that may facilitate (or impede) language learning. Finally, the cultural context refers to the family's, community's, and society's values, expectations, and beliefs about language development and children who require aided AAC. These beliefs and expectations may exert a powerful influence on language learning opportunities and outcomes. This paper reviews what is currently known about each of these language learning contexts, discusses clinical implications to enhance language development, and suggests directions for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)158-171
Number of pages14
JournalAAC: Augmentative and Alternative Communication
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1997

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Rehabilitation
  • Speech and Hearing


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