A virtual tutor for children with autism

Herring, Paul; Kear, Karen; Sheehy, Kieron and Jones, Roger (2017). A virtual tutor for children with autism. Journal of Enabling Technologies, 11(1) pp. 19–27.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/JET-01-2016-0006


The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is an established communication intervention for non-verbal children with autism. This paper presents an evaluation of a computer based PECS approach, in which young non-verbal children with autism respond to an on-screen ‘virtual tutor’ through the manipulation of picture/symbol cards. The paper presents research to investigate how the virtual tutor’s voice influences the children’s participation and performance.

Eight non-verbal children between 6 and 9 years old and with a diagnosis of autism were each presented with a series of computer-based activities, using a virtual tutor with either a natural or synthetic voice, in two separate sessions. Data was gathered using a within-participants counterbalanced design to control against variations between individuals and effects of presentation order.

Analysis of the children’s responses suggest they were able to use the system more effectively when the virtual tutor had a synthetic voice, rather than a human voice. The findings demonstrate that a computer-based virtual tutor can provide an engaging method of supporting symbol-based communication for non-verbal children with autism, and that a synthetic voice type was preferable for the sessions undertaken.

Investigations of voice type and its influence on non-verbal children’s participation and performance have so far provided inconclusive results (Ramdoss 2013). This research suggests that voice type is an important feature of the learning experience of non-verbal children with autism, and can have a significant influence on their participation and performance in virtual tutor-led learning.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions