Typical children’s graphic sequences (summary)


What was the aim of the study? This study explored the abilities of typically developing three- and four-year-old children in producing and understanding graphic symbol sequences.

Why was the paper written? Though typically developing children utilize spoken language for both comprehension and production, children who use AAC face a 'modality mismatch', because they comprehend spoken language but must produce language in a visual, or graphic, modality. A number of factors influence children who are acquiring language through AAC, including their development in symbolic representation, artistic representation and the syntax of the language in their environment. Though research is underway about these individual elements of development, little is known about how they converge when children who use AAC must produce sequences of graphic symbols.

What did the authors do? This study investigated graphic symbol sequences in typically developing children. The authors examined typically developing children rather than children with disabilities because the issue at stake was primarily theoretical. This strategy is common in the field of AAC when little is known about the research question, so optimal conditions are required.

The researchers performed two tasks with children aged between three and four years. The first task tested production of graphic symbol sequences. Children saw a picture and had to tell the 'story' of the picture using symbols. The pictures for this task represented sentences with a subject, verb and object, where an agent 'pushed' or 'pulled' another character. The second task tested comprehension of graphic symbol sequences. A symbol sequence was presented to children on a computer screen, one symbol at a time and accompanied by voice output, and children had to select which of four pictures depicted the sequence. As in the first task, the sequences consisted of a subject, verb and object.

What did they find? On the first task, almost all the children selected the correct symbols to include in their sequences. However, there was a great variety in the order of those symbols, and most children did not place the symbols in a consistent order. Only one of the thirty children in the study consistently placed symbols in the order that would be expected in spoken language.

On the second task, about half the children responded consistently, but not always in the manner predicted by spoken language. There was no relationship between children's performance on the two tasks.

Cautions: The study was carried out with French speaking children, though the word order used in this study, subject-verb-object, is also found in English.

Conclusions: This study showed that three- and four-year-old children do not simply transfer their knowledge of spoken language to graphic symbols. Children did not perform one-to-one correspondences between words and graphic symbols. Rather, consistent patterns of responses requires more skills than those developed by spoken language acquisition. Thus, young children do not approach language and graphic symbols in the same way.

These findings have important clinical implications. Children had more difficulty sequencing that selecting correct graphic symbols, which suggests that an appropriate AAC intervention target for young children may be the selection of symbols. Communication partners should remain flexible in their interpretation of symbol sequences produced by young children.

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Graphic symbol systems

Added to site August 2013