A child’s potential is compromised when that child cannot express him or herself or does not understand what is being said. Frustration in communication often results in challenging behaviors. Intervention can offer conventional forms of communication and reduce problem behaviors. One form of intervention involves visual aids such as communication books or high technology devices from which the user selects symbols to produce messages; these are often called selection-based or aided augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). An interdisciplinary program of research that seeks to optimize the design of AAC systems will be discussed. This research integrates information from developmental psychology, visual cognitive science, and the experimental analysis of behavior to understand how individuals, particularly those with autism, process visual communication displays. Some unique demands of aided AAC will be highlighted and current research on visual functioning in autism will be reviewed. Specific ways in which cross-disciplinary collaboration between professionals in aided AAC intervention, autism spectrum disorders, and behavior analysis (groups that are not necessarily mutually exclusive of one another) could enrich both basic and applied sciences will be discussed. Behavior analytic approaches in particular excel at disentangling complex challenges of learning and attention through examination of the influences of stimuli in the environment on behavior. This approach may help optimize aided AAC displays because it can (a) enrich our understanding of the unique visual processing demands of selection-based AAC, and (b) contribute methodologies for studying the effects of these demands on behaviors related to aided AAC communication.
Review Krista Wilkinson’s biographical statement.