Talk WITH Me: Communication Strategies for Students with Significant Disabilities



This skill-building workshop will present practical, evidence-based strategies that can be used to enhance the meaningful communication skills and interpersonal interactions of students with significant disabilities (SD), including those with intellectual disabilities, autism, and multiple disabilities. Diverse procedures for communicating information and expectations to these students will be highlighted, along with tools and tactics for facilitating reciprocal, give-and-take conversations between these students and others. A wide array of low tech instructional supports and assistive devices that can be constructed from “items at hand” will be illustrated.

The presenter will discuss and demonstrate eclectic strategies and materials that adults can use to better understand the communicative intent of students with SD, to effectively communicate with those students, and to foster the meaningful communication of those students with others. It will further present strategies that students with SD can use to better understand the expectations for their behavior, to spontaneously communicate their desires and opinions to others during routine activities, and to engage in social communication with their typical peers. Discussion, demonstration, interactive activities, material construction, and practical handouts will be used to convey information. Communication-related door prizes will be awarded!

Learning Outcomes

  • Participants will acquire knowledge of practical strategies for enhancing the communication competence of both students with significant disabilities and the persons who interact with them (e.g., educators; peers; family members), through the use of diverse low tech supports and varied communication systems.
  • Participants will demonstrate the ability to identify and design varied tactics and materials useful for facilitating the effective communication abilities of students with significant disabilities, within and across natural school, home, and community situations.
  • Participants will acquire information regarding a wide array of resources (e.g., web sites; print materials; resource agencies) that will aid in their selection, design, and application of effective communication strategies and systems for the children, youth, and young adults with significant disabilities that they personally serve.

Mini Biographical Statement

Photo: Jan Writer

Jan Writer is the Director of Student Placement and an Adjunct Professor of Education at Benedictine University, where she teaches courses in special education. She is also the Principal Consultant for Visions & Dreams, an independent agency which supports programs that serve persons with severe, multiple, and low incidence disabilities (i.e., moderate/severe intellectual disabilities; autism; orthopedic impairments; sensory impairments; deafblindness). Jan has worked with students who have severe and low incidence disabilities as a classroom teacher, a public school program coordinator, a Deaf-Blind Regional Center education specialist, an onsite technical assistance provider, a parent advocate, and a university teacher educator. Over the past 37 years, she has consulted to programs serving persons with severe disabilities in over 34 states, the District of Columbia, Canada, the U. S. Pacific Trust Territories, and American Samoa. She has further presented at more than 200 state, national, and international conferences on issues specific to the quality education of children and youth with significant disabilities.