A new way to assess the communication capability of individuals with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities has been developed by a team of researchers. Traditional assessment criteria often do not suit those who communicate with gestures, body movements and vocalizations instead of spoken words. The study led by University of Kansas scientist Nancy Brady was published in the February 2012 American Journal of Speech Language Pathology.
Accurate description of an individual’s communication level is very important in both research and practice. Describing the communication status of individuals with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities is difficult because these individuals often communicate with means that may not be readily recognized. The researchers goal was to design a communication scale and summary score that could be applied across populations of children and adults with limited communication forms.
Researchers developed the Communications Complexity Scale (CCS), a tool for researchers and clinicians to measure the communication development of both children and adults with disabilities as diverse as Autism Spectrum Disorders, deaf-blindness and cerebral palsy.
“Understanding the communication status of individuals with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities is difficult because they often communicate in ways that may not be readily recognized, even by clinicians,” said Brady, who pioneered a communication assessment and intervention for children with deaf-blindness.
One of the goals of the CCS was to provide a measure that would reflect an individual’s current status on the communications continuum, rather than a particular chronological age or other comparison group, a downside of many current measures.
Researchers found that scores on the CSS were within expected ranges for those studied. Comparison across other measures indicated significant correlations with standardized tests of language. Those who knew the children filled out reports on their communication abilities and tended to place children at higher levels of communication. Expert opinions generally favored the development of the CCS.
CSS is also designed to be more sensitive to change over time as well as to an individual’s response to behavioral and medication interventions.
The CCS has 11 levels of behaviors associated with the stages of communication development. It was developed, tested and refined by two teams of researchers at the University of Kansas and a third at the University of Washington. The study focused on three groups of 178 participants who represented a variety of ages, diagnoses, exposure to languages (other than English), motor and sensory abilities, including ASD, Down syndrome and motor impairments. None could express more than 20 words of speech, signs or symbols.
The scale appears to be useful for describing a given individual’s level of communication. Further research is needed to determine whether it is sensitive to developmental growth in communication.