TeachTown is a new computer-assisted instruction (CAI) program that utilizes best-practices ABA to teach a variety of skills to young children. Study 1 investigated the effect of the software on the acquisition of receptive language, cognitive, and social skills by 4 children with autism and 4 children with other developmental delays using a pre-test/post-test design. Social validity with parents, teachers, and clinicians was also assessed. Study 2 used a multiple-baseline design across the 4 children with autism to investigate whether CAI impeded the children's spontaneous use of language and social behaviors. Results suggested that the computer-assisted instruction actually enhanced social-communication and decreased inappropriate behaviors. Results are discussed in terms of the potential of using CAI programs for children with autism.
Keywords: Computer, Autism, Social-Communication, Language, Discrete Trial Training, Pivotal Response Training
Children with autism and other developmental disorders exhibit significant difficulties learning through traditional teaching methods. One method that has had substantial effectiveness in the education of these young children is applied behavior analysis (ABA). ABA encompasses a variety of teaching strategies which are drawn from the learning literature and includes both highly-structured and more naturalistic teaching approaches (Schreibman & Ingersoll, 2005). ABA has been shown to be particularly effective in the education of children with autism who, due to social, attentional, and motivational deficits, have difficulty learning though traditional methods (National Research Council, 2001; Schreibman & Ingersoll, 2005). Most ABA teaching techniques involve intensive, one-to-one instruction. Although ABA has been shown to be extremely effective for teaching new skills to young children with autism, it is often prohibitively expensive due to the significant amount of teacher time and materials need to implement it effectively.
With recent advances in computer technology, there has been a strong interest in the use of computer-assisted instruction (CAI) in the education of children with disabilities. There are several reasons to be excited about the possibility of using computers to implement ABA interventions with young children with autism. First, using computers may help to reduce the number of staff and staff training saving families and school districts substantial amounts of money. Second, it can be implemented with a high degree of fidelity. ABA instruction requires significant staff training to be implemented effectively. A computer program which uses ABA principles can be designed to always provide appropriate prompts and reinforcement consistently. Third, programs that automatically collect data on the child's performance may provide more accuracy and more comprehensive data than personal instruction. Fourth, computer instruction may be implemented by untrained providers, increasing the number of hours of intervention. Fifth, it is highly motivating for many children as has been demonstrated by the very profitable computer game industry for young children. This may be particularly true for young children with autism who have often been described as visual learners (Sherer, Pierce, Parades, Kisacky, Ingersoll, & Schreibman, 2001; Schreibman, Whalen, & Stahmer, 2000). If computers are more motivating for children with autism and they are able to attend longer, many skills can be taught with reduced behavior problems and increased learning time. Finally, because computers can store great amounts of information, more exemplars of concepts can be presented which will reduce the cost of materials for treatment and potentially increase generalization.
Research that has examined the effectiveness of CAI for teaching children with autism and other developmental disorders has been promising (Bernard-Opitz, Sriram, & Nakhoda-Sapuan, 2001; Bosseler, & Massaro, 2003; Coleman-Martin, Wolff Hellar, Cihak, & Irvine, 2005; Kinney, Vidora, & Stromer, 2003; Moore, & Calvert, 2000; Simpson, Langone, & Ayers, 2004; Williams, Wright, Callaghan, Coughlan, 2002). …