Preliminary Investigation of Visual Attention to Complex AAC Visual Scene Displays in Individuals With and Without Developmental Disabilities

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Visual scene displays (VSDs) are one type of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) display in which an integrated scene (typically a photograph) presents people engaged in shared activities, with “hotspots” for the concepts embedded within. Most AAC displays are more complex than a single VSD, and also contain a navigation bar. This preliminary study examined visual attention to these more complex AAC displays by participants with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (n = 13), Down syndrome (n = 13), intellectual and developmental disabilities other than Down syndrome or ASD (n = 9), and preschoolers with typical development (n = 20). Participants viewed images that simulated complex AAC displays containing a main VSD and a navigation bar with thumbnail VSDs arranged in one of four locations (top, bottom, left, or right). Both the main VSD and the navigation bar attracted attention, with participants across groups looking at both elements more than expected based on the space those elements occupied within the display. Within the main VSD, participants spent more time fixating on the meaningful elements (i.e., children and shared activity) compared to the background. Results suggested that gaze patterns to the meaningful elements of the main VSD were influenced by the location of the navigation bar. The finding that bar location may influence visual attention patterns makes it an important AAC system design factor that warrants additional research.



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