Submissions List TBI Interagency Conference

Effects of Animation with Graphic AAC Symbols: A Comparison of two Sets

  • Schlosser, Ralf
  • Koul, Rajinder
  • Shane, Howard
  • Source, James
  • Moerlein, Dorothy
  • Harmon, Ashley
  • Hearn, Emilia
  • Flynn, Suzanne
  • Laubscher, Emily
  • Abramson, Jennifer
  • Fadie, Holly


Augmentative and Alternative Communication, Assistive Technology


Animation offers a potentially beneficial technology to facilitate the
understanding of actions and prepositions depicted by graphic
AAC symbols. We compared the effects of animation on the
guessability and identification of Picture Communication Symbols
and Autism Language Program (ALP) Animated Graphics in
nondisabled preschoolers across three age groups. In this session,
we will give a synopsis of the literature, explain the methods,
present results, and discuss implications.


Graphic symbols are a low-tech necessity for most aided systems.
Some authors have posited that nouns depicted via graphics are
easier to understand than verbs and prepositions (Fujisawa, 2001).
Actions involve movement and this change may be particularly
difficult to represent through static symbols. Tversky et al. (2002)
reviewed evidence on facilitative effects of animation across a
variety of fields and concluded that animation may indeed be
effective. In AAC, research into the effects of animation is in its
infancy. In one study (Mineo et al., 2008), nondisabled
preschoolers identified actions from a four-choice array using two
kinds of animated symbols (video, line drawings) and two kinds of
static symbols (line drawings [LD] with disequilibrium cues and LD
with movement cues). Results indicated: (a) children did better
with the animated symbols, (b) video was best, (c) animated LDs
were more effective than static LDs with disequilibrium cues, (d)
there was no difference between animated and static LDs with
movement cues, and (e) older children did better than younger
children. Schlosser and colleagues (in press) studied whether
animated symbols from the Autism Language Program (ALP)
Animated Graphics Set, developed by Children’s Hospital Boston,
facilitate the guessability, name agreement, and identification of
verbs and prepositions in nondisabled preschoolers across three
age groups (3-, 4-, and 5-year old). Fifty-two children participated.
Half of each age group was randomly allocated to one sequence of
symbols (static then animated) and the other half was assigned the
reverse sequence. The children were presented with a guessability
task (“What’s this?”) and an identification task in which they had to
choose the target from an array of four symbols (“Point to ____ “).
Results indicated that (1) animated symbols were more guessable
than static symbols, although this was more pronounced for verbs;
(2) animated verbs were named more accurately than static verbs
but there was no difference between animated and static
prepositions; (3) verbs were identified more accurately compared
to prepositions but there was no difference between symbol
formats; and (4) older children guessed, named, and identified
symbols more effectively than younger children. The current study
aimed to replicate the study by Schlosser et al. (in press) and to
extend it to PCS by comparing it to the ALP Animated Graphic Set.
Currently, there are no comparative data available. Fujisawa et al.
(2011) successfully employed animations to teach the meaning of
static PIC symbols. However, since the current project does not
utilize animation for teaching purposes, their study is less relevant
here. Two-hundred and forty (240) non-disabled children across
three age groups (3, 4, and 5-year olds) will participate. At this
time we have completed 136 children. Children had to have
English as their primary language and age-appropriate receptive
vocabulary skills. A 2 X 2 X 2 X 3 completely randomized factorial
design was used; participants across the three age groups were
randomly assigned to various combinations of symbol set (PCS,
ALP), symbol format (static, animated), and word class (verbs,
prepositions). Dependent variables were guessability and
identification. A symbol was guessable if the child’s label
corresponded to the label reserved by the research team (or an
acceptable synonym) within 14-sec of the instruction. An
identification response was correct, if the child touched the symbol
corresponding to the spoken name provided by the computer
within the latency of 20 sec. Percentages were derived for each
measure. The same 24 verbs and 8 spatial prepositions used in
Schlosser et al. (in press) were included. The static
representations were derived from the animated graphics. A
Macintosh Powerbook with a 17 in display was used to conduct the
experiment. The Receptive One-word Vocabulary Test was
administered. Children who performed one ½ SD or more below or
above their chronological age were excluded. Familiarity with the
lexical stimuli was tested: the children had to perform an action or
demonstrate a preposition and they were asked to label a
performed action or preposition. In the guessability task, children
were presented with one symbol at a time in randomized order. In
the identification task, the children were presented with four
graphic symbols at a time, one target symbol and three foils, and
the instruction “Point to _________!” Children participated in
practice trials with symbols different from those used in the study
proper. Based on completed data collection with 136 children,
preliminary results indicate the following: In terms of guessability,
there was a main effect for symbol format, F (1, 135) = 15.266, p <
.001, indicating that animated symbols were easier to guess than
static symbols. This main effect, however, was modified by an
interaction of symbol format with word class, F (1, 135) = 5.679, p
= .019., suggesting that animation facilitated guessability more with
verbs than with prepositions. Older children were significantly
better at guessing than younger children, F (2, 134) = 6.685., p =
.002; post-hoc Tukey analyses indicated that 4-year olds
outperformed 3-year olds. There was also a main effect for symbol
set, F (1, 135) = 112.997., p < .001, indicating that ALP symbols
were guessed more readily than PCS. This main effect, however,
was modified by an interaction of symbol set with word class, , F
(1, 135) = 38.882, p < .001, suggesting that PCS did poorly with
prepositions. In terms of identification, there was a main effect for
symbol set, F(1,135) = 29.465, p < .001), suggesting that ALP
symbols were identified more readily than PCS. This was modified
by an interaction of symbols set with word class, F(1,135) =
29.171, p < .001, indicating the ALP did better with prepositions.
Again, older children did better than younger children, F (2, 134) =
5.07, p = .008; 5-year olds outperformed 3-year olds. There was
no effect for symbol format. This study replicates the findings
obtained for ALP in our earlier study. It also extends research into
the role of animation to another symbol set, one that is used most
widely among all symbol sets. Future research directions will be