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Dr. Chris’ Autism Journal » Research
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Archive for the 'Research' Category

The National Standards Project

Friday, April 28th, 2006
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I’m currently attending the AEN conference in San Jose, CA. The primary focus of the project is on a “National Standards Project” which will focus on the urgent need for universally accepted standards that promote evidence-based treatment approaches for autism.

This is exciting stuff! I’ll follow-up in the next week with additional information. Here’s some information pulled from the National Autism Center web site:

The National Standards Project is an unprecedented effort to produce a set of peer reviewed standards for evidence-based education and behavioral intervention for children with autism. The standards will also give policy-makers the tools they need to ensure that effective, scientifically sound treatment programs receive crucial funding.

The technical manual will be the basis for the development of additional materials targeted for specific audiences and uses. Projects presently scheduled include:

1) A handbook for families providing criteria for selecting evidence-based services.

2) A handbook for public school systems outling specific evidence-based program components, procedures, and implementation strategies.

3) Published recommendations for physicians on how to counsel families to identify effective services for their children with autism.

4) Professional training in how to implement the national standards.

5) Practical web-based material to help families and practitioners learn about the standards and their implementation.

Participants in the project include nationally recognized experts.

The need for standards is well established in the field. In 2001 the National Research Council (NRC) assembled a multi-disciplinary subcommittee to integrate the scientific, theoretical, and policy literature pertaining to the education and treatment of children with autism and to disseminate a preliminary set of recommendations. Although the NRC Report summarized the components of evidence-based approaches to education, it did not provide details explicit enough for standards implementation. An National Institute of Health (NIH) sponsored Autism Summit in 2003 further confirmed the need for standards.

Recently Published TeachTown Research: Positive Behavioral Changes Associated with Computer Use for Children with Autism

Tuesday, April 11th, 2006
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Treatment EfficacyLast year TeachTown received a grant through the Department of Education to evaluate an early prototype of TeachTown: Basics.  The results were recently accepted by the Journal of Speech and Language Pathology and Applied Behavior Analysis.

To view the entire article, download the PDF from our website: www.teachtown.com/research/

In the study, all children in the study showed significant improvement in their skills on the computer with a 53% increase from pre- to post-tests.

This part is not surprising, as there is already significant research about the value of computer-aided learning (both for typical children and children with autism.)
What was surprising were the positive behavioral results!Positive Behavior

  • Children with autism showed a 61% decrease in inappropriate behaviors while using the TeachTown software compared to baseline sessions.
  • These children also showed a 44% decrease in inappropriate behaviors in TeachTown’s off-computer generalization activities with their parents compared to baseline sessions.
  • Children with autism had a 105% increase in social behaviors and language while using the TeachTown software compared to baseline sessions.
  • Although only a small increase (11%) in social and language behaviors were observed in TeachTown’s off-computer generalization activities compared to baseline, however, these changes had significant clinical impact for some of the children (e.g. parents feeling “connected” to their children in these activities).

These results may seem counter-intuitive as most of us probably have less language and social interaction while we are using the computer. However, this is not the first research study to demonstrate that children with autism are very motivated by the computer. This increase in motivation and the fact that the computer is a clear focal point may have lead to these increases in spontaneous language and social interaction.

Negative BehaviorsLike many other researchers, teachers, and clinicians, I think the computer may be a very valuable tool for teaching certain skills to children with autism. In fact, some research studies have shown that children with autism may acquire skills faster using the computer compared to traditional teaching approaches. More research is needed to examine the efficacy of using computers for treatment and to assess the generalization of skills to the natural environment. More research is also needed on child characteristics for using TeachTown (or other computer-assisted interventions) and on how these programs can best be utilized in a school, home, or clinic setting.

It is very important to note that TeachTown is not simply a computer therapy, it is a computer and off-computer package meant to be used as such, we do not advocate ONLY using the software, the off-computer activities are equally or perhaps even more important to the success of this program for children with autism. The decrease in inappropriate behaviors was observed both using the TeachTown software and using the TeachTown off-computer generalization activities. I think this might be due to the fact that parents had some tools for interacting with their child (i.e. the software and the activities) which allowed the child to have a better sense of what they were supposed to be doing. Often times in research studies and in clinical practice, giving parents guidelines for working and playing with their child will result in a decrease in inappropriate behaviors without directly targeting those problem behaviors.

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