Brewer, Robin

Committee Member

Rude, Harvey

Committee Member

Mueller, Tracy


Special Education


University of Northern Colorado

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Greeley (Colo.)


University of Northern Colorado

Date Created





153 pages

Digital Origin

Born digital


For the purpose of this dissertation, the term communication partner described any individual in a position to provide or support opportunities for communication. Communication partners have been discussed in current literature in the areas of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), severe disabilities, aphasia, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The role, characteristics, and responsibilities of a communication partner are most comprehensively described in the aphasia literature.

It is likely that individuals with ASD would have more opportunities for social interaction and engagement if supported by skilled and informed communication partners. The communicative success of individuals with ASD may depend on the skills of their communication partners. We need to better understand how communication partners supporting individuals with ASD perceive their role in supporting social interactions and conversation.

The purpose of this study was to explore an educational team’s perceptions of their role as a communication partner. The Individualized Educational Program (IEP) team of a high school student with ASD was the focus of this qualitative study. The team’s perceptions were investigated through in-depth interviews, and the following propositions were considered: (a) How do perceptions of the role of a communication partner differ based on the adults’ level of training or experience with students with autism spectrum disorder?; (b) What, if anything, do team members perceive they need in terms of information and/or training in order to be adequately prepared as effective communication partners?; and (c) What are the barriers and/or supports in the school setting that affect the role of a communication partner?

Data from artifacts, observations, and interviews from 13 members of the student’s IEP team were analyzed. All data were brought together in NVivo qualitative data analysis software for open and then axial coding. Data analysis resulted in themes describing the communication partner experience of the student and the IEP team. Implications for practice and recommendations for future research were presented regarding the strategies, skills, and knowledge needed to be an effective communication partner for individuals with ASD.

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