Investigating Visual Attention to Print in Children with Rett Syndrome

Research project


Eye-tracking technology has been demonstrated to be a reliable means of assessing social preferences (Djukic & McDermott, 2012) and basic cognitive performance (e.g., matching and comparison tasks; Baptista et al., 2006) in children with Rett syndrome (RTT). Encouraging clinical reports suggest success in using eye-tracking technology to access communication devices (e.g., “User Stories,” 2014; J. Lariviere & S. Norwell, personal communication, October 9, 2013). These research and clinical advances suggest that eye-tracking technology has evolved to the point that it can remain calibrated despite repeated or constant movements by children with RTT.
Since we published our first study of storybook reading interactions of parents and children with RTT (Koppenhaver et al., 2001), it has been accepted that shared book reading is an effective approach to communication and emergent literacy intervention for children with RTT. What remains unknown, however, is how to measure literacy understandings or growth that may result from shared book reading interactions. The long term goal of the proposed project is to develop a reliable means of measuring increased and purposeful attention to print, directional tracking of text, and eventually sophisticated eye-movements that co-occur with fluent reading in individuals with RTT. Our first step in pursuit of that goal is to examine the patterns of visual attention to print that occur within and across a group of participants with RTT during shared book reading. We plan to accomplish this objective by pursuing the following specific aims:
(1) Identify the patterns of visual attention to a digital book “page” before, during, and after parent and child engagement in systematic book sharing. Based on work with young children with and without mild disabilities, our working hypothesis is that before intervention patterns of visual attention will favor attention to images on the page, but those patterns will shift toward attention to text with repeated sharing of the same book and with accumulated experience with a variety of books.
(2) Determine if different features of digital children’s books impact children’s visual attention to print. Our working hypotheses include: (a) digital children’s books with single lines of text accompanying an image will lead to more visual attention to print than books with multiple lines of text; and (b) children will attend more to print in familiar books than unfamiliar books.
(3) Determine whether the use of print referencing strategies increases visual attention to print. Based on extant research with children with and without disabilities our working hypothesis is that parent use of print referencing strategies during shared reading interactions will lead to increased visual attention to print (e.g., Justice, Pullen, & Pence, 2008).
Effective start/end date11/1/1410/31/15


  • Appalachian State University (ASU)