Comparison of Communication using an iPad and a Picture Based System (summary)


Background AAC interventions have been shown to improve social and communication skills in young people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (autism) and other developmental disabilities. Systems which include visual symbols might appeal to the visual strengths of some people with autism and systems such as the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) have been found to be effective for many people in this group.

Pictures and symbols can also be used on some speech generating devices (SGDs) and these have been found to be beneficial in improving communication and decreasing inappropriate behaviours in young children with autism.

The increased availability of mobile technology means that SGDs and apps are readily available to people with autism.

What was the aim of the study? The aim was to investigate the use of the iPad as a communication device and to compare this to the use of a picture communication system for young people with autism and developmental disabilities.

What did the authors do? Five children who were attending a summer school for pupils with learning disabilities were selected. They were aged between 8 and 11 and had a variety of disabilities. They all used some sort of picture communication system and had delayed receptive and expressive language skills.

The study took place at snack time during the summer school. The students were required to request one of 3 snack choices and a drink, using either single words or combinations including 'I want' and 'more' using either their established picture communication system or an iPad app called 'Pick a Word' which activated a spoken output or highlighted the select picture depending on whether the picture was touched and released or touched and held.

As the iPad was a novel system for all of the participants they were all given individual training in how to use it prior to the trial.

The two different communication systems were used at snack time on alternate days and each system was used on at least 3 days.

The researchers compared the frequency of the students' communication behaviours when using the two systems.

Cautions The comparison of the systems was limited to a single situational context away from the pupil's usual school setting and only requesting behaviour was assessed.

In addition the participants were already skilled in the use of the picture based systems prior to the trial, but the iPad was new to them.

Different types of symbolic representations were used on the two different systems and one might have been preferred over the other. It would be useful for future research to use the same type of symbols when comparing devices or systems.

Conclusions The authors found that use of the iPad did not detract from the pupil's communication. Communicative behaviours either stayed the same or increased in all cases.

Both systems needed preparation time from teachers and training to enable pupils to use them and within this study teachers preferred to iPad as it was felt to be more convenient to prepare and to move about and use in different settings.

They also suggest although iPads are easily and, relatively, cheaply available, this is does not mean they are necessarily better than other SGDs. They suggest that more research is needed to compare mobile technology to other currently available SGDs.

Things you may want to look into:

Applying technology to visually support language and communication in individuals with autism spectrum disorders

A comparison of picture exchange and speech-generating devices: Acquisition, preference, and effects on social interaction

The iPad and Mobile Technology Revolution: Benefits and Challenges for Individuals who require Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Added to site March 2014