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.
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