Computer-based interventions

In References on June 30, 2009 at 7:53 am

Goldsmith, T. R., & LeBlanc, L. A. (2004). Use of technology in interventions for children with autism. JEIBI, 1, 166-178.


To review the growing empirical support for the efficacy of technology-based interventions with children with autism.


Computer-based interventions

Computers have been used to teach a variety of skills, including how to recognize and predict emotions (Silver & Oakes, 2001), enhance problem solving (Bernhard-Opitz, Sriram, &Nakhoda-Sapuan, 2001), improve vocabulary (Moore & Calvert, 2000; Bosseler & Massaro, 2003), advance generative spelling (Kinney, Vedora, & Stromer, 2003), enhance vocal imitation (Bernhard-Opitz, Sriram, & Sapuan, 1999), increase play related statements (Taylor et al., 1999), and improve reading and communication skills (Heimann, Nelson, Tjus, & Gillberg, 1995).


Additionally, researchers are working to present commonly used, low-technology interventions via computer. For example, social stories, an educational strategy developed by Carol Gray, have been presented in a multimedia, computerbased format (Hagiwara & Myles, 1999), and activity schedules are being developed in Microsoft PowerPoint and used to teach children with special needs (Rehfeldt, Kinney, Root, & Stromer, 2004).


Although the results of these studies vary in terms of their positive gains for children with autism, the overall results are quite favorable. For example, Bosseler & Masaro (2003) developed and evaluated a computer-animated tutor to improve vocabulary and grammar in children with autism. In their

investigation, eight children were given initial assessment tests and tutorials, and were then reassessed 30 days following mastery of the vocabulary items. Data showed that students were able to identify significantly more items during posttest and recall 85% of the newly learned items at least 30 days after the completion of training.


There is mounting evidence that computer-based interventions are beneficial for children with autism but the critical question is whether computer-based instruction is more beneficial than its low-tech counterpart. Several comparative studies have investigated this question. Chen & Bernard-Opitz, (1993)

compared live personal instruction to computer-assisted instruction and found better motivation and fewer behavior problems with computer-assisted instruction for 3 of the 4 participants. However, they found no

significant difference in the participants’ learning rates. Despite the similar learning rates, the benefits of increased motivation and reduced behavior problems are notable.


Moore & Calvert (2000) compared computerized instruction with a lower-tech behavioral program for vocabulary instruction for children with autism and also found that children with autism were more attentive and more motivated when presented with. Additionally, they found that their participants learned more vocabulary in the computer instruction condition rather than the lower tech behavioral program.


Additional support for increased efficacy of computer-based instruction over more traditional methods was offered by Williams, Wright, Callaghan, and Coughlan (2002) who found that after computer assisted learning, 5 of the 8 children with autism could reliably identify at least 3 words when other methods had failed to promote such gains. Participants also spent more time on reading material when they accessed it through computer and were less resistant to its use.


These comparative studies indicate that computer based instruction typically results in benefits such as increased motivation, decreased inappropriate behavior, and increased attention and sometimes results in increased learning compared to traditional methods.


Computers, including desktop, laptop, and handheld varieties, can be conditioned reinforcers for many children with autism resulting in task

presentation that has inherently reinforcing characteristics.

The next critical series of questions should focus on determining which characteristics of the computer based instruction children with autism find

appealing and how which specific design features promote learning. In an initial investigation, Lahm (1996) examined software features used in commercially available programs for their effect on engagement, affect, and choice. Data from 48 alternating treatment design studies suggest that children with disabilities, including autism, prefer programs with higher interaction requirements, animation, sound, and voice features. They show more positive affect and engage more frequently with computer

programs that use preferred features and actively choose between programs based on preferences for these features.


In addition to the previously mentioned benefits of computer-based interventions, several other benefits are worth noting. First, computer programming allows unlimited control of stimulus presentation that allows researchers and clinicians to present repeated learning trials in an identical or systematically varied format. Additionally, computer-based reinforcers can be delivered immediately following responses, and the delivery of reinforcement can easily be changed for schedule thinning purposes and varied to reduce the likelihood of satiation. Finally, although typically used as a single person technology, computers have the ability to permit concurrent, or “cooperative,” use (i.e., two children with two joysticks). Given that many parents are often concerned that use of technology will promote isolation and decreased interpersonal interaction, this is a notable feature.

  1. solid literature review….start with this one…

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