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Preschool-aged children have difficulty constructing and interpreting simple utterances composed of graphic symbols*


Children who require augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems while they are in the process of acquiring language face unique challenges because they use graphic symbols for communication. In contrast to the situation of typically developing children, they use different modalities for comprehension (auditory) and expression (visual). This study explored the ability of three- and four-year-old children without disabilities to perform tasks involving sequences of graphic symbols. Thirty participants were asked to transpose spoken simple sentences into graphic symbols by selecting individual symbols corresponding to the spoken words, and to interpret graphic symbol utterances by selecting one of four photographs corresponding to a sequence of three graphic symbols. The results showed that these were not simple tasks for the participants, and few of them performed in the expected manner – only one in transposition, and only one-third of participants in interpretation. Individual response strategies in some cases lead to contrasting response patterns. Children at this age level have not yet developed the skills required to deal with graphic symbols even though they have mastered the corresponding spoken language structures.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Ann Sutton, École d'orthophonie et d'audiologie, Université de Montréal, C.P. 6128, Succursale Centre-ville, Montréal, QC H3C 3J7.
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This research was funded by the Social Sciences and Research Council of Canada. Parts of the data were presented at the American Speech–Language–Hearing Association meeting in Philadelphia in November 2004 and at the American Speech–Language–Hearing Association meeting in Boston in November 2007. The authors wish to thank all the children who participated in the study and the research assistants who collected the data.

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Journal of Child Language
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