Author ORCID Identifier

Date of Award

Summer 8-13-2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

MaryAnn Romski

Second Advisor

Rose A. Sevcik

Third Advisor

Elizabeth Peña

Fourth Advisor

Juan Bornman

Fifth Advisor

Elizabeth Tighe


Children with severe speech and language impairments may rely on augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) for a variety of communicative functions. Despite the availability of bilingual AAC devices that allow the user to communicate in more than one language and alternate between languages, little research has addressed assessment and intervention concerns for bilingual children who use AAC. This study investigated the ability of bilingual children with and without language impairments to discriminate between languages using a bilingual AAC app during a cued language switching task.

Participants included 58 English-Spanish bilingual children ages 4;0 – 6;11 (23 with language impairments). Children received standardized language assessments in English and Spanish as well as assessment of nonverbal IQ and processing speed. All participants completed an experimental language switching task in which they were asked to locate images of vocabulary words in Spanish and English using a Spanish and English speech-generating device (SGD). Parents of child participants completed a demographic information form and participated in an interview about their child’s language environments.

Results of a series of hierarchical linear regressions indicated that when controlling for age, processing speed significantly predicted children’s ability on the experimental language switching task. Nonparametric tests showed no evidence of increased response times on trials where participants were required to switch between languages compared to trials where they did not switch. Further analysis indicated that language dominance, nonverbal IQ, and language abilities were not significant predictors of bilingual language switching ability using AAC.

Results from this study indicated that in addition to age, processing speed ability may be an important predictor of children’s ability to language switch using AAC. This study contributes to the understanding of how young bilingual children conceptualize and discriminate between language systems. This research paves the way for further assessment and intervention studies to investigate how best to support bilingual children with language impairments and developmental disabilities who may benefit from AAC.


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