Carter, E., Williams, J., Hodgins, D., & Lehman, L. (2014). Are Children with Autism More Responsive to Animated Characters? A Study of Interactions with Humans and Human-Controlled Avatars. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(10), 2475-2485. https://doi-org.cmich.idm.oclc.org/10.1007/s10803-014-2116-8.
In this article, the authors used four conditions to observe and compare the responsiveness of twelve children (ages 4 to 8) on the autism spectrum. The authors began by reviewing current literature and theory surrounding the use of Computer-Assisted Technology and responsiveness and engagement for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. They noted that current literature and parent feedback seem to indicate that students with autism perform better and make more improvement with interventions that are computer-assisted. This is based on the assumption that non-human interventionists are preferable and do not induce as much anxiety. They also noted the increase in the creation of Computer-Based Interventions (CBIs) in recent years but also pointed out that research actually comparing student performance with CBIs to human interventions was limited. Carter and the research team described the specifics of their study and how the children’s interactions would be observed with a human interventionist, an avatar from the game Turtle Talk with Crush, cartoon characters from Blue’s Clues and Dora the Explorer, and a human actor imitating the avatar from the game. They evaluated attention as well as gestural and verbal responsiveness in each of these four conditions. Their results demonstrated that the children had the most responsiveness with the human therapist, mid-level responsiveness with the avatar and the human actor, and the poorest responses with the cartoon characters. The researchers also discovered that attention levels were consistent through all four conditions. Their discussion reviewed possible limitations such as small sample size and also indicated connections to theoretical questions in this area.
Carter and the other authors demonstrated a clear need for their research questions in their literature review. They discussed the assumptions of previous research that CBIs would create improved social and communicative responses for students on the autism spectrum due mainly to their non-human characteristic. They also discussed the large increase in development of CBIs in recent years. They built off of these citations to demonstrate that although this is a particular intervention for students with autism that has been seeing a lot of growth, research actually comparing response to CBIs with human intervention is lacking. The authors also provided an in-depth description of each of their conditions, which provided clarity on the specific setting for each condition, how they were all modeled to be similar to the game/avatar, and how they worked to elicit responses from the children. This is beneficial for future replication of studies and generalization purposes.
This article connects to my current research interests because it addressed the topic of a specific type of assistive technology: Computer-Based Interventions. Other research details the beneficial uses of avatars to increase communicative patterns and social responses and I was interested to see if avatar use had similar effects for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Also, student engagement with assistive technologies is an area of research that specifically interests me. I have the assumption that CBIs would increase engagement for students on the spectrum, but this article’s results demonstrate that to be untrue as the children had similar attention levels in all conditions.