The semantic organization patterns of young children: Implications for augmentative and alternative communication

Karen A. Fallon, Janice Light, Amy Achenbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


The successful use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems by young children rests on the child's ability to efficiently and accurately locate desired vocabulary. Typically, young children's vocabulary items are organized on communication boards or computer displays according to what seems logical to speech-language pathologists, teachers, and parents. It remains unclear, however, whether adult-generated vocabulary arrangements truly reflect the cognitive organization of young children who require AAC. There are few empirical data to describe how young children organize vocabulary, particularly more abstract linguistic concepts. In the current study, a graphic symbol arrangement task was used to investigate how 20 children between 4;0 and 5;11 years of age organized linguistic concepts. The children were asked to organize 42 pictures depicting various familiar vocabulary items that included nouns, verbs, descriptors, prepositions, pronouns, and question words. During and after the sorting task, the children were asked to talk about the rationales for their arrangements. Results indicated that they purposefully arranged an average of 40% of vocabulary items, and tended to organize concrete items (e.g., nouns, action verbs) in pairs or small groups according to event schema. The children had greater difficulty organizing abstract items (e.g., prepositions) than concrete words (e.g., cookie). Implications for AAC interventions are discussed along with future research directions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)74-85
Number of pages12
JournalAAC: Augmentative and Alternative Communication
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Rehabilitation
  • Speech and Hearing


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