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For information on the new RERC on AAC, funded by NIDILRR from 2014-2019, please visit rerc-aac.psu.edu.
Design AAC Systems that Provide Dynamic Shared Interactive Contexts for Children
|Janice Light (Penn State University)||Kathy Drager (Penn State University)|
Children who have complex communication needs (e.g., children with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities) require early access to assistive technologies to support their learning and participation in educational, home, and community environments. Current AAC technologies are often difficult for young children to learn to use; they may not appeal to children; and they do not easily accommodate changes as children grow and learn. There is an urgent need to develop AAC technologies that better meet the needs and skills of children with complex communication needs in order to enhance their communication / language development and maximize their educational outcomes
The purpose of this project is to investigate the effects of innovative designs for AAC assistive technologies that provide a truly dynamic shared context to support communication and language development for children with complex communication needs. Specifically the project will:
• Determine designs for a new generation of AAC technologies that provide dynamic shared interaction space and integrate communication into play and educational contexts;
• Investigate the effects of these new AAC technologies on the language and communication development of young children; and,
• Transfer these design specifications widely to AAC manufacturers resulting in new products that better meet the needs of children with complex communication needs.
The project involves the following activities:
• With input from clinicians, families, and other stakeholders, determine the design specifications for AAC technologies to better meet the needs of children with complex communication needs and their families;
• Demonstrate the feasibility of these designs through mock ups;
• Introduce these new technologies to children and their families
• Investigate the effects of these new AAC technologies on the language, literacy, and communication development of children;
• Investigate consumer satisfaction with these innovative designs;
• Transfer these design specifications widely to AAC manufacturers resulting in new products that better meets the needs of children with complex communication needs;
• Disseminate research results to educational / rehabilitation professionals to enhance evidence-based practice and improve outcomes for children who require AAC.
Annual Update (May, 2011)
We have now completed a series of studies to help us understand how to design improved AAC technologies that are easy for young children to understand and use. So far the results of the studies support the following empirically-based guidelines for designing AAC displays for assistive technologies:
• Infants perform better with visual scene displays (VSDs) that present vocabulary in context than with traditional grid displays that present isolated symbols out of context. Specifically, infants show more interest in visual scene displays and attend to them visually for longer periods of time than traditional grid displays.
• Toddlers locate vocabulary more accurately with visual scene displays than traditional grid displays.
• These results are in keeping with the research literature that suggests that humans process visual scenes rapidly within the first milliseconds of presentation, much more rapidly than isolated symbols. Rather than adding complexity, the research suggests that the context provided by visual scenes in fact facilitates rapid visual processing significantly.
• Overall these results suggest that individuals with complex communication needs in the early stages of development should be introduced to AAC technologies utilizing VSDs rather than traditional grid displays.
• Infants show more interest and attend longer to photographs than to line drawings as images. These results suggest that individuals with complex communication needs at the earliest stages of development should be introduced to AAC technologies using photographs rather than line drawings.
• Toddlers are able to understand and locate vocabulary on visual scene displays that include personalized photographs, nonpersonalized photographs, and nonpersonalized realistic line drawings. Furthermore, they are able to use these VSDs expressively to make requests and participate in play contexts with minimal or no instruction. Although they are able to understand all three types of displays, they perform better with VSDs that are personalized photos of their experiences for personal, human vocabulary (e.g., mommy) These results suggest that individuals with complex communication needs in the early stages of development should be introduced to AAC technologies utilizing VSDs, ideally ones that are personalized photos of their own experiences.
• Participants fixate on human figures within VSDs more rapidly and for longer periods of time than would be expected, regardless of the other elements in the scene. Human figures in photograph VSDs strongly attract visual attention even when presented alongside other attractive distracters and when the human figures are in the background and are very small. Unfortunately some of the AT manufacturers have developed VSDs that omit humans; they simply include the background. Results suggest that humans are a powerful means to attract visual attention to key elements in VSDs, especially with young children who are beginning communicators. Thus humans (e.g., the child, mom, dad) should be integral features of VSDs especially for young children.
In addition to these studies, we are also currently conducting research to investigate improved AAC technologies for young children that allow us to capture VSDs and related vocabulary on the fly during communicative interactions with the children. These new innovative technology offer several distinct advantages compared to traditional speech generating devices that must be preprogrammed with anticipated vocabulary prior to the interaction:
(1) this innovative technology significantly reduces the programming demands on parents and clinicians; it is fast and easy to add new concepts;
(2) this innovative technology allows parents or clinician to respond immediately to the child’s interests as they occur and to capture these interests and experiences “just in time” (JIT) for communication during the interaction; and
(3) this innovative technology allows the involvement of young children in the development of their communication displays and vocabulary, supporting a shared interactive space for the child and parents/ teachers/ clinicians.
A prototype of this innovative AAC technology was developed through a spin off SBIR grant, funded by the National Institutes of Health, in collaboration with Tom Jakobs at InvoTek, Inc. Extended field testing and evaluation of this innovative “just in time” AAC system (that offers a shared contextual space) is currently underway under the AAC-RERC with 9 children with complex communication needs (CCN), ages 1-5 years, including 3 children with autism spectrum disorders, 3 with significant motor impairments, and 3 with cognitive impairments. So far preliminary results of the studies strongly support the effectiveness of the innovative JIT technology compared to traditional SGDs.
Janice Light (Penn State University) describes the components of effective interventions for young children who use AAC.
Light, J., Drager, K., & McNaughton, D. (November, 2008). Building language and literacy skills with children who require AAC. Presentation at the American Speech and Hearing Association Conference, Chicago, IL.
Light, J., Wilkinson, K., & Drager, K. (November, 2008). Designing effective AAC systems: Research evidence and implications for practice. Presentation at the American Speech and Hearing Association Conference, Chicago, IL.
Light, J. & Drager, K. (November, 2010). Effects of Early AAC Intervention for Children With Down Syndrome Presentation at the American Speech, Language, and Hearing Association Conference at Philadelphia, PA. (handout)
Light, J., Drager, K., & Wilkinson, K. (November, 2010). Designing Effective Visual Scene Displays for Children Who Require AAC. Presentation at American Speech and Hearing Association Conference, Philadelphia, PA. (handout)