Investigation of eye gaze on AAC visual scene displays (O’Neill, 2017)

O’Neill, T. (October, 2017). Investigation of eye gaze on AAC visual scene displays with a navigation menu by individuals with autism spectrum disorder, down syndrome, and intellectual and developmental disabilities. Presentation at AAC Colloquium, Penn State University.

Tara O’Neill presented her research on the investigation of eye gaze on visual scene displays with a navigation menu for individuals with autism spectrum disorder, down syndrome, and intellectual and developmental disabilities. A summary appears below and the full presentation can be found here.

Problem

Currently, augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems are often designed atheoretically—without an understanding of the basic underlying processes (e.g., motor, visual, auditory, cognitive, and linguistic) of individuals with complex communication needs (Light & McNaughton, 2013). Visual cognitive processing is one area that deserves attention (Wilkinson & Jagaroo, 2004). However, there has been very little research to date examining visual cognitive processing of AAC displays by individuals with developmental disabilities who often benefit from AAC (Wilkinson, Light, & Drager, 2012).

Current investigation

question slideThis investigation examined eye gaze fixation patterns on AAC visual scene displays (VSDs) by three groups of individuals with individuals with significant intellectual and developmental disabilities (autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, and intellectual and developmental disabilities of other origin), as well as a group of preschoolers with typical development matched on receptive language age. Participants viewed images that simulated AAC displays containing a main VSD and a navigation menu arranged in one of four locations (top, bottom, left, or right). Each VSD depicted two children engaged in a shared activity (i.e., petting a dog, eating lunch, reading a book). Participants experienced both free and cued viewing phases. The results presented here focus on the free viewing phase, in which the participants were provided with 5 seconds to view the entire stimulus. The questions of interest were: (1) What elements of the display capture attention? and (2) How (if at all) does the location of the navigation menu affect attention?

Results

Across all four groups, both the main VSD and the navigation menu attracted attention, with greater fixation times on the VSD compared to the menu. Within the VSD, participants across groups showed a pattern of preferential attention (i.e., greater fixation times) for both the children and the shared activity compared to the background. An initial analysis of a subset of the data from the menu top and bottom conditions suggested that the location of the navigation menu may affect patterns of attention to the elements within the VSD. Particularly, participants across groups attended more to the shared activity when the menu was arranged on the bottom. With the exception of participants with DS, participants across groups attended more to the children when the menu was arranged at the top.

Implications

  • The use of a navigation menu with thumbnails of possible displays, which has been shown to reduce the learning demands of navigation (Drager et al., 2004), also appears to facilitate desirable patterns of visual attention
  • The same elements that are included in VSDs in order to scaffold language (humans and shared events), attract preferential attention from participants across groups
    • Participants attended to these elements without becoming distracted by background items
    • Attention to shared event may indicate gaze following or receptive joint attention
    • These elements may confer advantages for language learning and visual cognitive processing
  • The location of the navigation menu may affect how attention is allocated, particularly to the elements in the VSD
    • Optimal placement may vary based on diagnostic category

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