special education, complex communication needs, assistive technology, augmentative and alternative communicationm, effective teaching practices, AAC, AT


This study examined teacher characteristics and practices identified as effective through current research for teaching students with complex communication needs. For this population, communication issues are more complex than those typically encountered in other settings. Specifically, the researcher asked: what are the desired characteristics and practices for this population, and are the desired characteristics and practices present in current settings? Working with six teachers in a large urban school district, this study utilized a multiple case study design. Criteria for participation included the teacher as the primary reading/language arts instructor for a student who used an augmentative and alternative communication system (AAC). This study builds on prior research and fills a gap in current research through a focus on the teacher. This study was conducted through three phases: a survey of teacher characteristics, observations of teacher practices, and a semi-structured interview. Four instruments were utilized to ensure validity. Results suggest that teachers for this population require knowledge on language and literacy specific to the non-verbal child. AAC training is critical in regard to programming and navigation. The use of other technology supports which offer auditory, visual, and access options are essential. Strong collaborative teams (school and district) are also important. However, one of the most significant findings documents that success may lie with the teacher's 'choice' to embrace challenges with this population. This issue of 'choice' questions the teacher's willingness (personally or professionally) to accept this commitment. This finding also questions the degree to which teachers are willing to pursue opportunities. Recommendations include the need for: training (teachers and paraprofessionals), pursuit of opportunities for supports, addressing parent issues, a district-based liaison between home and school, and to examine issues which prevent the recommended instructional time (90 minutes of reading instruction plus 45 minutes of supplemental instruction). Conclusions indicated that participants ranged from effective to ineffective. The identification of 'highly qualified' teachers through level of education and amount of experience did not correlate with participants' level of effectiveness. Given the limited research available, this study addresses a need in the field and lays the foundation for future research with this population.


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Graduation Date





Cross, Lee


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Education


Child, Family, and Community Sciences

Degree Program

Exceptional Education








Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)