There is an urgent need for speech generating devices (SGDs) designed for young children with complex communication needs. Available SGDs are difficult for children to use and time consuming for adults to program. Without appropriate SGDs, children miss valuable opportunities to communicate and develop language skills during their early years, when they are predisposed to language development. The proposed research continues development of software that successfully addresses these problems. Named PlayTalk, this software encourages interaction and communication that appeals to young children. It uses developmentally appropriate representations, organizations, and navigational techniques so it is easy for young children to understand and use. It also enables adults to add communication displays and language concepts easily and quickly while interacting with the child, without disrupting the fun and learning. The Phase 1 study clearly demonstrated feasibility. PlayTalk was fast and easy for parents and professionals to learn and use, and it supported communication and language learning by young children with complex communication needs better than current SGDs. PlayTalk also provided access to vocabulary that was more responsive to the children's immediate needs and interests, enabling parents and professionals to capitalize on teachable moments as they occurred throughout the day. Phase 2 technical developments focus on making PlayTalk available on many devices via standard web-browsers. Phase 2 also furthers the state-of-the-art by providing tools to encourage participation by children in the creation of VSDs. The impact of PlayTalk is exceptional because it promotes communication, language, and cognitive development by young children who presently are at great risk for failure in these areas.
The proposed research aims to enable young children with complex communication needs to participate more fully in meaningful social interactions thereby facilitating communication, language, and cognitive development.