Teaching Preschoolers With Autism to Use Different Speech-Generating Device Display Formats During Play: Intervention and Secondary Factors

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Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and complex communication needs are increasingly taught to use tablet-based speech-generating devices (SGDs). An important issue in designing such interventions is the selection of an appropriate format for displaying vocabulary. The purpose of this study was to determine (a) whether young children with ASD can be taught to use different SGD vocabulary display formats and (b) whether there are differences across the formats on a range of secondary measures (e.g., preference and generalization).


Five preschoolers with ASD (and prior experience with simpler aided augmentative and alternative communication) were taught to use grid and visual scene display SGDs during a play-based intervention. Acquisition of functional responding was assessed using a single-case experimental design. Secondary variables included error types, antecedents for communication, preference, and generalization.


All participants increased their use of functional target vocabulary using both the grid and the simple visual scene display. Of the five participants, three showed similar performance with both formats, whereas two had slightly higher rates of functional responding with the grid. Individualized differences across participants and formats were apparent across secondary variables (e.g., preference, error types, generalization).


Both simple grid and visual scene displays may be viable options when teaching functional use of SGDs to children with ASD who have prior aided augmentative and alternative communication experience. Analyzing secondary variables beyond device acquisition (e.g., generalization, preference) may have implications for individualizing intervention.