Animation May Help Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders Learn to Use Symbol-Based Communication Devices

Researchers on the project “Do Animations Facilitate Symbol Understanding in Children with Autism?” enrolled 27 children with ASD in a study. The children were 3-7 years old and spoke less than 50 words verbally. The children were randomly divided into two groups: an “animated symbol” group and a “static symbol” group.

During the study, each child was invited to play a “guessing game” on a computer. The children heard the computer say “point to [name of verb]” and then guessed which of four graphic symbols represented the verb. The children had to point to the correct symbol within 30 seconds. The study began with a training phase where the children practiced with two verbs, “climb” and “hug.” For this training phase, the game would acknowledge or correct the choices. The children also received spoken feedback from the tester and could practice until they indicated that they understood the game. Then, during the main part of the study, the children were asked to point to the graphic symbol representing 24 different action verbs (blow, bounce, close, cover, cut, dance, drop, eat, fall down, give, jump, kick, lie down, lift, pull, push, ride, run, sing, take, throw, turn around, walk, and wave). These included “transitive” verbs such as bounce, carry, and eat, as well as “intransitive” verbs such as fall down, jump, and run.