R2: Investigating AAC technologies to support the transition from graphic symbols to literacy

Figure R2-1 Pict and text v2 jpgTeam Leaders: J. Light, D. McNaughton, T. Jakobs (InvoTek), Hershberger (Saltillo)

Ben is 15 years old and has severe autism. He has no functional speech and relies on a speech generating device (SGD) with picture symbols to express his needs and wants; he is very frustrated when he can’t communicate effectively, and he has many challenging behaviors. He is currently in a transition program preparing for employment. His transition team has had trouble identifying potential employment options because of his limited literacy skills. He was introduced to literacy instruction recently and is making progress. However, his current SGD does not support his transition to literacy.

Challenge: Literacy skills are essential to positive outcomes in education, employment, participation and community living. Literacy skills also support the development of generative language and communicative competence for individuals with CCN, and are essential for access to the tools of 21st century communication (e.g., Internet, social media). Unfortunately, current research demonstrates that up to 90% of individuals with CCN enter adulthood without functional literacy skills.  At present, there are no AAC apps that effectively support the transition from the use of graphic AAC symbols  to the use of orthographic text for communication.

Goals: This project will investigate the effects of AAC apps that dynamically display text upon selection of graphic symbols in order to support pre-literate individuals with CCN in the transition from using graphic AAC symbols to using literacy skills to communicate in daily activities at home, at school, at work and in the community. This improvement in AAC technology design is not intended to replace formal literacy instruction, but rather to complement instruction and infuse literacy into daily communication.

It is expected that dynamically displaying text in graphics- based AAC software will result in increases in the literacy skills of individuals with CCN who were previously nonliterate, thereby providing a powerful means to complement formal literacy instruction and support increased communication and participation. The data from this study will be used to guide tech transfer of this innovation to the market place.

Summary Statement

If AAC systems are going to support the transition to literacy (T2L), they should be grounded in current theories of literacy learning and instructional design. Specifically, they should support the learner’s engagement in the processes that are required for successful reading:

(a) orthographic processing (i.e., knowledge of letters and letter patterns);
(b) phonological processing (i.e., identification, manipulation, and memory of the sound structure of speech);
(c) meaning processing (i.e., knowledge of words and their meanings); and
(d) contextual processing (i.e., use of background knowledge to derive meaning from text) (cf. Adams, 1990).

AAC apps with features to support the transition to literacy (T2L) should include:

(a) animation of text (i.e., dynamic text) upon selection of the graphic symbol to draw the learner’s visual attention to the written word and thus support orthographic processing by the learner;
(b) pairing of speech output with the appearance of the text to support phonological processing to connect the written text to its spoken referent;
(c) incorporation into the learner’s AAC graphic symbol displays to ensure that the target concepts are known and that the written words are linked to known graphic symbol referents to support meaning processing; and,
(d) infusion of the T2L supports into meaningful daily communication exchanges that will support contextual processing and enhance understanding.

Cite as: Light, J., McNaughton, D., Jakobs, T., & Hershberger, D. (2014). Investigating AAC technologies to support the transition from graphic symbols to literacy. RERC on AAC: Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Retrieved from https://rerc-aac.psu.edu/research/r2-investigating-aac-technologies-to-support-the-transition-from-graphic-symbols-to-literacy/

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