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A Comparison of Photographs of Contrasting Contextual Complexity for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders During Classroom Transitions

Susan Lien, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) who have more severe communication deficits often benefit from augmentative communication (AAC). Due to the visuospatial strengths of individuals with ASD, graphic symbols are frequently used in AAC interventions for these children. A variety of symbols are available to use with the child, that include photographs, line drawings, or text. Photographs are more iconic, or have a stronger resemblance to their referents, than other graphic symbols, such as printed words, but the type of photographs used to support children with ASD is largely unexplored in the literature. This study examined the impact of photographs of contrasting contextual complexity, displayed on an iPad2, on the ability of three preschool children with ASD to transition to play activities and engage with play materials and with peers. A single-subject, alternating treatment design compared the impact of two types of photographs of contrasting contextual complexity. High-context photographs contained rich contextual information and no-context photographs deleted those contextual elements. The children with ASD used these photographs to locate scheduled play activities. The impact of the two photograph types on the children's duration of transition, number of prompts required, and type of prompts was measured. Once participants reached the scheduled location, the engagement with play materials and social engagement was also measured. In the condition with high-context photographs, the participants' imitation of peer-modeled behavior was examined. Results indicated that both photograph types provided information supporting the children's transitions to play activities. Results for duration of transition and number of prompts required during transitions, suggest the participant with more challenging needs performed quicker and more independently using high-context photographs. The other two participants initially performed better with no-context photographs, but as sessions progressed, their performance using both photograph types was similar across conditions. Differences in results across participants suggest that some children with ASD may benefit using photographs of different contextual complexity for different purposes. Study limitations and future directions for research are discussed.

Subject Area

Special education

Recommended Citation

Lien, Susan, "A Comparison of Photographs of Contrasting Contextual Complexity for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders During Classroom Transitions" (2012). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3522174.