We explored the level of technology utilization in supporting children with cognitive disabilities at schools, speech clinics, and with assistive communication at home. Anecdotal evidence, literature research, and our own survey of special needs educators in Central Florida reveal that use of technology is minimal in classrooms for students with special needs even when scientific research has shown the effectiveness of video modeling in teaching children with special needs new skills and behaviors. Research also shows that speech and language therapists utilize a manual approach to elicit and analyze language samples from children with special needs. While technology is utilized in augmentative and alternative communication, many caregivers utilize paper-based picture exchange systems, storyboards, and daily schedules when assisting their children with their communication needs. We developed and validated three software frameworks to aid language therapists, teachers, and caregivers in supporting children with cognitive disabilities and related special needs. The Analysis of Social Discourse Framework proposes that language therapists use social media discourse instead of direct elicitation of language samples. The framework presents an easy-to-use approach to analyzing language samples based on natural language processing. We validated the framework by analyzing public social discourse from three unrelated sources. The Applied Interventions for eXceptional-needs (AIX) framework allows classroom teachers to implement and track interventions using easy-to-use smartphone applications. We validated the framework by conducting a sixteen-week pilot case study in a school for students with special needs in Central Florida. The Language Enhancements for eXceptioanl Youth (LEXY) framework allows for the development of a new class of augmentative and alternative communication tools that are based on conversational chatbots that assist children with special needs while utilizing a model of the world curated by their caregivers. We validated the framework by simulating an interaction between a prototype chatbot that we developed, a child with special needs, and the child's caregiver.


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Graduation Date





Hughes, Charles


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Engineering and Computer Science

Degree Program

Modeling and Simulation









Release Date

May 2018

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)