CCE Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Computing and Engineering


Laurie P. Dringus

Committee Member

Ling Wang

Committee Member

Rachel Sessler Trinkowsky


augmentative and alternative communication devices, autism spectrum disorder, iconicity, speech therapy, usability


According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), 1 in 59 children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) each year. Given the complexity of ASD and how it is manifested in individuals, the execution of proper interventions is difficult. One major area of concern is how individuals with ASD who have limited communication skills are taught to communicate using Augmentative and Alternative Communication devices (AAC). AACs are portable electronic devices that facilitate communication by using audibles, signs, gestures, and picture symbols. Traditionally, Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) are the primary facilitators of AAC devices and help establish the language individuals with ASD use. The study focused on SLP’s decisions involving the selection of picture symbols or icons on AAC devices to assist with the communication needs of individuals with ASD. Previous research suggested that individuals with ASD are more successful users of AAC devices when the symbols selected reflect the subject more closely and have meaning to the individual.

The main research question that guided the study was, “What factors are considered by SLPs when selecting icons on AAC devices?” Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was applied as a qualitative inquiry method to learn about SLPs experiences of working with individuals diagnosed with ASD, with emphasis on experiences with symbol selection on AAC devices. The results of the study provided deep insight into the main factors that influence symbol selections and challenges SLPs have in making selections of icons on AAC devices. Multiple factors influenced symbol selections with three primary themes: device designers, training, and usability. As a result of the factors identified, recommendations were established to help SLPs and other facilitators who work with designing page sets for AAC devices that function specifically to meet the needs of individuals with ASD. Recommendations for future research should further investigate the issues uncovered in this study that focus on factors that influence the selection of symbols used on AAC devices, including exploring the use of symbols across multiple devices used by the individual diagnosed with ASD and the transferability of symbols within the community and other environments.