“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Girls and boys with complex needs are like the caged bird; they have a story that is untold.  The way to unlock that cage is to write.  If a student can write, they can communicate (not everything that they want to say is on their device).  Our co-founder, Susan Norwell, shares some essential foundational skills for writing that students with Rett Syndrome and other complex needs require:


  1. Play and interaction for children to practice building simple storylines within their play.
  2. A robust language system that allows them to tell us a variety of things.
  3. Students need to be read to and be engaged in dialogic reading as they build vocabulary and experience the components of a good story.
  4. Through the robust language system, support for focused instruction and modeling of narrative construction.
  5. Modeling of language is the foundation for good AAC learning, but in addition, our students need to see writing modeled using their pencil and ours. (Hanser & Musselwhite, CTG 2013)
  6. Purposeful instruction to build phonemics awareness including rhyme, letter sounds and making words.
  7. Multiple experiences learning to use the tool they will use for writing. Multiple errorless writing opportunities will build their confidence in the tool they are using, and in themselves, as writers.
  8. Authentic writing experiences that ask them to use writing to give an opinion, make a prediction, contribute to a list and a myriad of other opportunities that should include student-directed writing.

Our students with Rett Syndrome and complex needs require a robust language system. So, the question you should be asking yourself is, “Can I have a conversation with my child’s language system?” If the answer is “no”, your child will not be able to either. They must to be able to combine individual icons or words to create a novel idea to affirm, negate, greet, describe, direct others, comment, or construct a narrative and request. Without a robust language system, our girls and boys will not be able to learn to communicate across all of the functions of communication that we take for granted.

We have some great courses on Rett U for writing to support the team working with your child, from just beginning to write to conventional writing and narratives.  Check them out, and if you need more help, please contact Kourtney@gp2c.org.