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Post-school quality of life of individuals with complex communication needs Hamm, Bruce

Abstract

Documenting post-school outcomes is a critical step in ensuring "that schools prepare young people to live productive, satisfying lives" (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2003). The construct of quality of life (QOL) represents a broad-based measure of post-school outcomes. Although augmentative and alternative (AAC) interventions may enhance the communication skills and educational achievements of students with complex communication needs while they are in school, there is no guarantee that these gains will be maintained following students' transition to adult life. Unfortunately, information on the post-school QOL and related outcomes of individuals with complex communication needs is scarce. This study addressed this lack of information by examining the post-school outcomes of eight individuals with complex communication needs who used AAC in British Columbia schools and transitioned to adult life in the past 5 years. Outcomes for the participants were documented in the areas of (1) QOL, (2) important life domains (e.g., employment, education, living circumstances, etc.), and (3) communication satisfaction and modes of communication. Two surveys were used to compile the data: the Quality of Life Profile: People with Physical and Sensory Disabilities (Renwick et al., 1998) and a Communication Survey that was modeled after Slesaransky-Poe's (1997) Consumer Survey on Communicative Effectiveness but designed specifically for this study. Four of the participants and people who knew them best (e.g., family members) also participated in brief interviews in which they discussed the positive and negative aspects of their school and post-school experiences. The results are presented in the form of individual stories designed to summarize the unique past and present experiences of each participant. While there was considerable variation across the participants' QOL scores, their outcomes in important life domains were generally not encouraging. Participants who achieved, relatively higher outcomes were distinguished on the basis of their communication satisfaction as well as indicators of communicative competence. However, the majority of participants and their supporters were very dissatisfied with the lack of services that were available to them, especially in the area of AAC. The results are discussed in relation to outcomes for adults with development disabilities in the AAC and Canadian QOL literature. Implications for future AAC research, practice, and advocacy efforts are identified.

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