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Autism, communication and use of a speech-generating device in different environments – a case study

Journal article
Authors Gunilla Thunberg
Elisabeth Ahlsén
Annika Dahlgren Sandberg
Published in Journal of Assistive Technologies
Volume 5
Issue 4
Pages 181-198
ISSN 1754-9450
Publication year 2011
Published at Department of Applied Information Technology (GU)
Department of Psychology
Pages 181-198
Language en
Keywords Assistive technology, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Speech-generating devices
Subject categories Communication Studies, Specific Languages


Purpose – This paper aims to examine interaction patterns in two activities at home and one activity at school when a seven-year-old boy with autism and learning disabilities was supplied with a speech-generating device (SGD). Design/methodology/approach – Activity-based communication analysis (ACA) was used as the basis for analysing and discussing of communicative behaviours in video recordings made before and during SGD intervention. The coded communicative behaviours were engagement in activity, role in turn-taking and communicative form, function and effectiveness. Conversational topics were also analysed. Findings – Activity characteristics seemed important for the outcome. In the two more structured activities (story reading at home and morning circle at school), the child could use the SGD to communicate more effectively within the given frames. During mealtime at home, topic length increased and the instruction to the parents to also use the SGD resulted in positive changes in this activity. ACA highlighted some important issues related to SGD intervention, such as use for expression of communicative needs and access to suitable vocabulary. There also seems to be a need for more guidance to communication partners with respect to the use of communicative strategies to support communication and machine-mediated interaction. Originality/value – Research of the effects of augmentative and alternative communication techniques used in natural interaction is almost non-existent. This case study, therefore, is an important contribution to the field and provides some insights into the challenge of using an electronic device in natural interaction.

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