Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 44, Issue 10, pp 2475–2485 | Cite as

Are Children with Autism More Responsive to Animated Characters? A Study of Interactions with Humans and Human-Controlled Avatars

  • Elizabeth J. CarterEmail author
  • Diane L. Williams
  • Jessica K. Hodgins
  • Jill F. LehmanEmail author
Original Paper


Few direct comparisons have been made between the responsiveness of children with autism to computer-generated or animated characters and their responsiveness to humans. Twelve 4- to 8-year-old children with autism interacted with a human therapist; a human-controlled, interactive avatar in a theme park; a human actor speaking like the avatar; and cartoon characters who sought social responses. We found superior gestural and verbal responses to the therapist; intermediate response levels to the avatar and the actor; and poorest responses to the cartoon characters, although attention was equivalent across conditions. These results suggest that even avatars that provide live, responsive interactions are not superior to human therapists in eliciting verbal and non-verbal communication from children with autism in this age range.


Autism Animated characters Computer-assisted technology Computer-based interactions Communication Avatars 



Financial support for this research was provided by Disney Research, Pittsburgh. We wish to thank Lori Georganna for facilitating all aspects of our interaction with the theme park, as well as Casey Lovoy, Dana Barvinchak, Mk Haley, Brooke Kelly, Chelsea Kogelschatz, Dayna Rubendall, and Breanna Fisher for their assistance in performing this research. We thank the Autism Society of America and the Autism Society of Greater Orlando for their help in recruiting.

Supplementary material

10803_2014_2116_MOESM1_ESM.doc (24 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 24 kb)
10803_2014_2116_MOESM2_ESM.doc (26 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOC 26 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Robotics InstituteCarnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Speech-Language Pathology, Rangos School of Health SciencesDuquesne UniversityPittsburghUSA
  3. 3.Computer Science DepartmentCarnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA

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