Current Research and Projects

IEP Analysis Project

The Institute on Communication and Inclusion and the Hussman Institute for Autism in Baltimore, MD are beginning a collaborative analysis of IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) of students with intellectual and developmental disability labels, including autism, who have complex communication needs who use, or may benefit from, Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). We are looking for parents and students who are willing to provide us with access to current and past IEP documents, so that we can analyze the ways that communication supports are written into students’ academic plans.

This study aims to understand how support is constructed through IEPs in order to meet the school-based needs of students with intellectual and developmental disabilities with complex communication needs who use, or may benefit from, AAC. We hope that our analysis will help to establish best practices for IEP writing around communication supports.

If you are willing to participate, please email or mail copies of IEP forms (including your contact information) to the ICI. 

iPad for Communication

This study seeks to understand how individuals with complex communication needs utilize a series of iPad apps to practice and hone skills associated with typing to communicate. Specifically, our research questions ask:

  • How can the iPad be used to help individuals who type to communicate develop greater communicative independence?
  • What apps and strategies are most useful for developing and practicing communication skills?
  • How can we help people apply the skills they develop in non-communicative apps to open-ended communication?

Through a series of video-recorded practice sessions with a communication trainer and dedicated practice time at home, participants set individual goals related to typing skills such as rhythm, eye gaze, body organization, motor control and accuracy, and selected apps to utilize to work towards these goals. Initial findings indicate the need for participants to be challenged with age-appropriate content when using iPad apps for communication practice, even if those apps are intended to be “games,” the experience of anxiety or others’ expectations even in the context of practice sessions, and the importance of practice in general. Constructing communication as not a taken-for-granted ability, but a skill to be practiced, was important for participants to isolate an otherwise daunting task into targeted skills on which they could improve.

Freshman Year

“The Freshman Year” is an ongoing research collaboration between ICI research team members, a researcher at the Hussman Institute for Autism and three participant co-researchers (current/former college students) who type to communicate. Through dialogue across individuals at different stages of their post-secondary educational journeys, this study explores the academic, social, and support experiences and foster mentorship relationships with students who type to communicate.

The group meets bi-monthly via the virtual chat function of Google Hangouts, a tool that allowed for this research to happen across multiple zip codes. Some of the topics discussed include: perspectives online vs. on campus courses, navigating testing accommodations, dynamics of support and peer relationships, and (emotional, physical, sensory) experiences in various spaces. Also significant are the topics that extend beyond classrooms, campuses and college-life including things ranging from hobbies and movies to anxiety and typed communication broadly.

The study hopes to expand to include more participants in these conversations, including students who type to communicate transitioning out of high school and/or who have chosen to explore post-secondary education in other creative and flexible ways. For more information about participating in The Freshman Year project, please contact the ICI.