Speaker Transfer in Children’s Peer Conversation (summary)

Background In conversations in which one speaker uses a communication aid the AAC users contributions are generally more slowly produced and might lack other subtle features such as intonation and changes in volume. These factors have an effect on the way in which conversational turns are managed between communication partners. The use of communication aids, particularly by children with complex motor disabilities can lead to delays between the end of a natural speaker's conversational turn and the beginning of the VOCA users spoken output.

What was the aim of the study? The aim was to use conversational analysis to look at the way in which a child with cerebral palsy who used a high-tech communication aid and his peer, who had no physical or communication difficulties, managed the conversational turn-taking in an interaction. This was to focus particularly on points at which a VOCA generated utterance was due to end and the child without communication needs was next to speak.

What did the authors do? They used a single case study of a conversation between two eleven year old boys, one of whom had no known physical, learning or communication disabilities, the other had cerebral palsy and used a very limited range of speech sounds, he used an infra-red head pointer to access his VOCA and had no learning disabilities.

The boys were videoed as they had a conversation. Their interaction was transcribed in a very detailed form which looked at non-verbal behaviour, vocalisations and non-vocal sounds such as beeps from the VOCA, as well as spoken output.

Caution: This was a single case study and therefore the findings cannot necessarily be generalised more widely.

Conclusions: They found that, in general the boys managed the transfer of conversational turns quite well. The use of questions and some conversational prompts by the non-VOCA user provided some expectations about what the VOCA user might do next and the use of non-verbal behaviours such as eye gaze help to indicate when VOCA utterances are complete.

The need for the VOCA user to look at his device whilst constructing an utterance meant that looking away from it towards his friend indicated that he had finished his turn, continuing to look at the device signalled that he had more to say.

The authors also considered the speaking child's interaction with the VOCA and the way in which it can fulfil additional social functions including being part of a 'guess ahead' game during an interaction, so that the VOCA user can either confirm or reject the others attempts to guess what he is going to say. They suggest that in peer to peer interaction the use of communication aids is collaborative in nature and not simply related to the giving and receiving of information.

Added to site February 2014