Alternative Communication and Autism

Status: Completed MA Thesis

User Interface Adaptability within an Augmentative Communication App for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

April Stauffer

April Stauffer

This research explores criteria for assessing the effectiveness of mobile user interfaces in alternative communication applications for children on the autism spectrum. [Keywords: alternative communication, augmentative communication, assistive communication, iOS, mobile application, autism spectrum disorder, ASD]

Project Summary

Alternative Communication Autism

Communication is an important part of day-to-day functioning within society. Difficulty with communication is one of the key indicators when a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is given (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). For individuals working in the field of autism intervention, facilitating communication is a first step to successful learning. Emerging mobile technologies offer individuals with ASD unique opportunities for assistive communication. The introduction of the tablet computer and augmentative communication apps is changing the way that communication is being approached—opening up an entirely new area of research surrounding the effectiveness of these devices as communication tools (Achmadi et al., 2012, Flores et al., 2012, van der Meer et al., 2012).

However, an additional problem remains. Presently, there is no clear set of criteria to show which technology will work best for each individual. Educators and speech pathologists must often use a trial-and-error method of testing various communication techniques, wasting both time and resources. This study explores the characteristics of individuals with ASD, and the characteristics of the user interfaces of augmentative communication apps, with the goal of using the resulting patterns for developing tools that help educators select appropriate apps for these individuals.

This project contributes to a broader, group exploration of how mobile technology can be used to assist a variety of learners, including individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), to relate to the world and explore their full potential. Research projects in this area focus on individuals of a wide variety of ages and ability levels. Emerging mobile technologies have opened up a new world of assistive technologies, and an expansion of online learning environments. We are interested in exploring different tools and pedagogical approaches through our various research projects.


Achmadi, D., Kagohara, D.M., van der Meer, L., O’Reilly, M.F., Lancioni, G.E., Sutherland, D., Lang, R., Marschik, P.B., Green, V.A. & Sigafoos, J. (2012). Teaching advanced operation of an iPod-based speech-generating device to two students with autism spectrum disorders. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 6, 1258-1264.

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Flores, M., Musgrove, K., Renner, S., Hinton, V., Strozier, S., Franklin, S. &  Hil, D. (2012). A comparison of communication using the Apple iPad and a picture-based system. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 28 (2), 74-84.

van der Meer, L., Kagohara, D., Achmadi, D., O’Reilly, M.F., Lancioni, G.E., Sutherland, D. & Sigafoos, J. (2012). Speech-generating devices versus manual signing for children with developmental disabilities. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 33, 1658-1669.