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The complicated relationship between construction and interpretation of graphic symbol utterances in 4- to 9-year-olds.

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The study of graphic symbols as both input and output can improve our understanding of the developing use of graphic symbol utterances in aided communication. In this study, we explored whether individual response patterns reflected group results across the 4- to 9-year age range on tasks of interpretation (input) and construction (output) of short (3 or 4 symbols) utterances, indicating use of a single strategy or a variety of strategies. The participants were 77 typically developing children with no motor, speech or language problems; and normal-range hearing, vision, and intelligence. They were asked to perform an Interpretation task (enact using toys an event portrayed in a symbol sequence displayed on the computer screen by the experimenter) and a Construction task (describe using symbols an event enacted with toys by the experimenter), with 8 items for each task. Results suggest that the pattern of growth differed for Interpretation and Construction across the ages studied, as did the relationship between the two tasks within an age group: task differences were significant for the 6-year-olds only, with Construction better than Interpretation. Response patterns (one task better than the other or similar performance on both tasks) also differed across the ages.

The findings suggest that ability to interpret and construct graphic symbol utterances is not a unitary phenomenon and may involve a shift in salient channel (input or output). Children do not simply improve overall with age, but may change strategies during development, leading to different patterns driving successful performance.


Ann Sutton    
University of Ottawa

Natacha Trudeau    
Université de Montréal


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