Professionals’ and parents’ shared learning in blended learning networks related to communication and augmentative and alternative communication for people with severe disabilities (summary)



People with severe disabilities (SD) often have complex communication needs (CCN) and are dependent on other to support them to be able to participate in activities of daily living. Their communication is often difficult for unfamiliar people to understand and might be supported by the use of various forms of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). People with whom they spend a lot of time have in-depth knowledge of how to communicate with people with SD and are often very skilled communication partners.

Parents and carers of people with SD can find it difficult to meet others in similar situations to share knowledge and experience. Parents are often best placed to support others, including professionals, in learning about the communication needs of their children.

Blended Learning Networks (BLNs) are groups of people who share a common interest or learning need and who come together, using the internet, to offer mutual support and learning.

What did they do?

This study took place in Sweden. It use BLNs to investigate the understanding of parents, teachers and support staff about AAC for people with SD.

36 caregivers (15 parents and 21 professionals) took part in the study.

Participants were divided into four BLNs, each a mixture of parents and professionals. People were able to take part, via the internet, from their own homes or work places. The topics considered were; communication in general, communication/AAC in school, communication/AAC and technology and communication/AAC and a holistic perspective. There was also an evaluation session. Before each BLN session participants were sent two questions to consider and some suggestions for related reading.

The BLN meetings were recorded and minutes created and circulated to group members.

What did they find?

A number of themes came out of analysis of the BLN minutes.

• Communication in General – the importance of communication in all forms, including a wide variety of AAC systems, and the way in which people in the environment respond to it.

• Communication/AAC in School – the importance of multimodal approaches to communication and how to identify and enhance communication.

• Communication/AAC and Technology – the main discussions were about iPads and apps. Themes included new technology, boosting confidence and how iPads can support this and the way technology can support links between different environments used by people with SD. Some people also had some anxiety about using and learning about technology and its possible benefits.

• Communication/AAC and a holistic perspective – again two themes emerged. The first was 'facilitating and limiting aspects' including personal traits of people with SD and their communication partners, lack of time and lack of knowledge about AAC. A further limiting factor was lack of clarity about who was responsible for ensuring that the communication needs of the person with SD were understood and addressed. The second theme was the 'interaction is developmentally stimulating' with AAC being an integral part of communication and vice versa.

In general BLN participants viewed them as positive, finding the mix of parents and professionals beneficial.


Parents and professionals involved with people with SD and complex communication needs found being part of the BLNs an overwhelmingly positive and empowering experience.

The authors conclude that both home and school need to clarify communication goals for people with SD and be open to the use of new technology for this group.


The participants were self-selected and therefore very motivated to take part. There was a lack of male participants, possibly reflecting the proportion of women working as carers and that mothers often offer more frequent personal care to their children than fathers.

The use of questions to provide a framework for the BLN discussion was useful but could have had some influence on the results.

Things you may want to look into:

Communication is everything I think. Parenting a child who needs Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

Supporting the Communication, Language, and Literacy Development of Children with Complex Communication Needs

Added to site Dec 2015