PurposeThe picture exchange communication system (PECS) is an established communication intervention for non-verbal children with autism. The purpose of this paper is to present an evaluation of a computer-based PECS approach, in which young non-verbal children with autism respond to an on-screen “virtual tutor” through the manipulation of picture/symbol cards. The paper presents research to investigate how the virtual tutor’s voice influences the children’s participation and performance.Design/methodology/approachEight non-verbal children between six and nine years old and with a diagnosis of autism were presented with a series of computer-based activities, using a virtual tutor with either a natural or synthetic voice, in two separate sessions. Data were gathered using a within-participants counterbalanced design to control against variations between individuals and effects of presentation order.FindingsAnalysis of the children’s responses suggest that they were able to use the system more effectively when the virtual tutor had a synthetic voice, rather than a human voice. The findings demonstrate that a computer-based virtual tutor can provide an engaging method of supporting symbol-based communication for non-verbal children with autism, and that a synthetic voice type was preferable for the sessions undertaken.Originality/valueInvestigations of voice type and its influence on non-verbal children’s participation and performance have so far provided inconclusive results (Ramdoss, 2013). This research suggests that the voice type is an important feature of the learning experience of non-verbal children with autism, and can have a significant influence on their participation and performance in virtual tutor-led learning.
Journal of Enabling Technologies – Emerald Publishing
Published: Mar 20, 2017