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The effects of gestures and pictures on word acquisition and use in children with autism spectrum disorders

Chan, Geok Boon Cherie (2014) The effects of gestures and pictures on word acquisition and use in children with autism spectrum disorders. Professional Doctorate thesis, Murdoch University.

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Although gestures have been found to aid the development of verbal communication, little is known about their influence on functional communication of young children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). This study explored the influence of iconic gestures on word acquisition and use specifically by children with ASD in contrast to using pictures. An iconic gesture-based teaching method was compared to a picture-based teaching method to support word acquisition and use. The study aimed to determine whether there was a difference in the number of trials taken to learn new words using either a gesture- or picture-based method, and whether any advantages would be maintained over time. In addition, it aimed to determine whether the two methods had differential effects on children’s spontaneous, unplanned vocalisations, eye contact with communicative partner, and on-task behaviours when being taught. Results indicated that there was an overall trend for the children to take longer to master a new word when using gestures compared to pictures. This was expected as the children involved had a history of using pictures in past communication programmes. However, it was unexpected that, after mastering gestures and pictures, when given a free choice all five participants chose to use gestures as their preferred mode of communication. Participants also produced significantly more spontaneous vocalisations, eye contacts and on-task behaviours during the gesture-based teaching and testing conditions compared to the picture-based conditions indicating engagement in more extensive, generalized communicative behaviour. Overall gains in communication skills due to word acquisition through the gesture-based and picture-based teaching programme were shown in improved scores on the Preschool Language Scale (5th Edition) and the communication subscale of the Gilliam Autism Rating Scale (2nd Edition). Overall, the results obtained encourage future research on the effects of including iconic gestures in teaching common words across mand and tact functions at early stages of intervention for young ASD children with minimal verbal skills.

Publication Type: Thesis (Professional Doctorate)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Psychology and Exercise Science
Supervisor: Leach, David and Gouldthorp, Bethanie
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