A Video Analysis of Children with ASD Spontaneously Initiating about Discrepancies in a Virtual Environment: Interaction Profiles and General Trends

Friday, May 16, 2014
Meeting Room A601 & A602 (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
A. M. Alcorn1, H. Pain1, J. Good2 and S. Fletcher-Watson3, (1)School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland, (2)Department of Informatics, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton, England, (3)University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom

The rigidity of thought and desire for routine which characterise ASDs might yield predictions that novel and expectation-violating aspects (discrepancies) within a virtual environment (VE) might be upsetting. An evaluation of ECHOES, a touchscreen-based, game-like VE to support social communication, provided an opportunity to investigate the effect of various types of discrepancies on childrens communication. Activities deliberately introduced novelty, such as new objects and effects, but intermittent software issues meant that ECHOES also included unintentional surprising events, such as the virtual character makingmistakesin an activity he had already done correctly, and non-events, like known objects being absent from activities. Observations of young children with ASD using ECHOES suggested that discrepancies can actually be successful extrinsic motivators of spontaneous and positive initiations to both human and virtual partners (Alcorn, Pain, & Good, 2013).


The current analysis sought to better illuminate how discrepancies might be incorporated into the design of future VEs, with the overall goal of motivating initiation. It closely examined individual children to determine which discrepancies motivated them to initiate, and what the characteristics of those initiations were; this information builds up a picture of children’s interaction style.


Video observation (n=8 participants, developmental age 2-6) was used to locate discrepant aspects (novelty, surprising events, and non-events) during children’s play with the ECHOES VE. Child reactions were recorded as non-social or as initiation to a partner (human or virtual). Initiations were subsequently tagged for their apparent function (imperative or social) and constituent behaviours. Current analysis examined each child’s reactions along a series of dimensions (e.g. discrepancy type, function) to develop an interaction profile summarising his or her customary patterns of activity when engaging with ECHOES discrepancies (e.g. child’s prevalence of non-social reactions vs. initiations, specific initiation behaviours, etc.)


While each child showed a unique profile, children could be grouped into several higher-level profiles representing general styles of interaction with the ECHOES discrepancies and social partners. Each one was characterised by a cluster of apparent “preferences” for certain types of discrepancies over others, and common manners of reaction. Profiles had no strong relation to children’s developmental age. As a general trend, children with a high proportion of their total reactions regarding novelty showed a low proportion of reactions to non-events, and vice versa.


Examining interaction profiles can flesh out our picture of the relatively new phenomenon of discrepancies as motivators for communication, and help to illuminate what it is that children understand about discrepancies. Work currently in progress is investigating how discrepancies may be embedded in the design of new VEs, with the goal of supporting initiations. Interaction profiles are a valuable tool throughout the process of developing VEs and other interactive technologies: at the design stage they form the basis of user personae, and in a finished system they allow the included discrepancies to be customised to particular subgroups of children, thus maximising the likelihood of their initiation.