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

Early Results of National Center for Technology Innovation (NCTI) Study with TeachTown Efficacy in Pre-1st ASD Classrooms

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009
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Boy at chalkboardThe following is a summary of our results to date in a study in progress.  This is a collaborative research effort with Jigsaw Learning (TeachTown), Los Angeles Unified School District, and Cal State University, Los Angeles.  The study will conclude in June, 2009 and final results will be posted this summer.  In addition, the results will be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal this fall.
To address the increasing need for solutions for serving children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in the schools, it is important to consider options that are more accessible and affordable such as Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI).  However, it is even more essential that these solutions are effective and research is needed to address this issue.  In this collaborative study with TeachTown, Los Angeles Unified School District, and California State University, Los Angeles, a CAI program which targets language, cognitive, academic, social, and life skills will be assessed in a large public school system.  Approximately 50 preschool and kindergarten-1sTeachTown Mapt grade children with ASD are participating with 25 children in a treatment group and 25 children in a control group.  Children in the treatment group received 50-100 minutes per week of CAI and 50-100 minutes per week of supplementary off-computer activities designed to enhance generalization to the natural environment.  The CAI and off-computer activities were provided through TeachTown: Basics, which is currently being used in many schools across the United States, but which has not yet been tested in a randomized research study.  In addition to the automatic data collection provided by the software, students were assessed using behavioral and standardized outcome measures.  It was anticipated that the classrooms using the TeachTown: Basics program would demonstrate significantly higher rates of acquisition across learning areas and would also show more improvement in their spontaneous language and social interaction.  It was also expected that children in the treatment group would exhibit less inappropriate behaviors following treatment than their peers in the control group. Following this Gen Webinar study, it is also anticipated that teachers and parents involved in the Children at computertreatment group will show higher satisfaction ratings with their child’s program than those parents and teachers associated with the control group.  The results of this research will help demonstrate to school districts the effectiveness and social validity of implementing CAI, and will help districts such as LAUSD secure funding for these types of programs by having data to demonstrate the effectiveness.  The behavioral observation data is currently being coded by graduate students at California State University, Los Angeles, and children in both groups will use TeachTown: Basics through the rest of the school year to assess effectiveness between groups and within the control group.

About LAUSD Population
District Population: 688,138
Special Education Students: 82,326
English Language Learners (ELL) Students: 39,455
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) students: 8,516

  • Primary eligibility
  • Additional 55 with ASD as secondary eligibility

LAUSD Autism Programs
Preschool Autism Special Day Programs (SDPs) - 1/2 day
Intensive Comprehensive Autism Program (ICAP) (ages 3-6)
Autism SDP (primary – high school)
Autism SDP for students with High Functioning Autism (HFA) /Asperger
Any/all other options

Issues in Autism Programs

  • Staff-student ratios
  • Funding
  • Staff training and implementation
  • Accountability
  • Behavior problems of students
  • Access to general curriculum
  • Rapid increases in ASD
  • Access to evidence-based interventions
  • Paucity of appropriate staff (have to contract out)

Potential Benefits of TeachTown: Basics for LAUSD Students
Evidenced-based intervention with built-in data collection
Differential instruction
Collaboration with parents
Curricular guidance for teachers
Motivation for “hard to teach” students
Flexibility as students transition to different settings

Treatment Procedure

  • TeachTown: Basics Curriculum (Dev Ages 2-7 years)
    • Academic/Cognitive Skills
    • Social UnderstandingPicture3.jpg
    • Receptive Language
    • Life & Community Skill Understanding
  • Daily computer sessions on school days for 20 minutes/day (can be done in 2
  • 10-minute sessions)
  • Daily off-computer activities on school days for 20 minutes/day (1:1, small group or circle activity)
  • 3 months of intervention

Purpose and Design of Research

  • Purpose: To assess the efficacy of the TeachTown: Basics program in self-contained special education classrooms in a large, urban school district.
  • Design: Between and Within-Subjects Group Design, 4 schools – each randomly assigned in the fall to Treatment or Control, in spring, Control classrooms begin treatment.

About the TeachTown: Basics Program (the Intervention)

Vacuum Reward.pngCheck out the website for information about the program: www.teachtown.com

TeachTown: Basics includes the following:

  1. ABC Screenshot.PNGOn-computer lessons where the child gets on the computer and completes lessons in an ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) format with engaging reward games to keep them motivated;
  2. Off-computer activities to work on skills that are not targeted on the computer (e.g. Expressive Language, Play, Imitation, Social Interaction, Motor Skills) and to enhance generalization of skills learned on the computer to the natural environment;
  3. Automated data collection and tracking to assess the child’s progress as they move through the computer program and for school staff to use to assess the effectiveness of the intervention and to determine which skills may need more work off the computer;
  4. Note taking system for school staff to jot down anecdotal information about the child’s performance or any other relevant information to the child’s success with the program; and
  5. Synchronization and updating of data which allows the teacher to eventually share information with the families (not in this study) and for the child to be able to use the program at home (not in this study).  In addition, this feature allows the research team to look at data on a regular basis to determine how the study is progressing and to conduct final data analysis.

Participants Results: TeachTown: Basics Software Program
LAUSD Feb Melvin Dontell Computer_0001.jpgFifteen of the 22 students mastered lessons using the TeachTown:Basics software program.  This does not mean that the other students did not make progress on the program, it just means that some of the children are still working toward mastery on their lessons, which will likely result in some mastered lessons by the end of the school year for most students.  It is not unusual for students to not master lessons in only 3 months time.  Students not meeting mastery are those with more severe cognitive delays, and those that were unable to complete 20 minute sessions.  Data below is shown for the 15 students who did master lessons in 3 months time.  There was statistical significance at the p>0001 level from the Pre tests to the Post tests, which are a part of the TeachTown: Basics program and test the child’s knowledge of concepts using a different set of stimuli from the training to ensure that the children are learning the concepts (i.e. targets) and not just memorizing pictures. In 3 months, students, on average, mastered lessons in about 43 minutes (Preschool) to 52 minutes (K-1) and mastered 5-6 lessons (20-24 concepts/targets).

Results: Language Changes on the Brigance Assessment from Pre (November, 2008) to Mid-Treatment (Feb, 2009)
The Brigance is a standardized developmental assessment that is frequently LAUSD Feb Parthenia Isaah Computer_0001.jpgused to identify deficits and track progress in various developmental areas including language, cognition, social skills, and motor skills.  LAUSD uses the
measure in their ICAP and other autism programs to asess the progress of the children enrolled in their programs.  This measure aligns well with the TeachTown: Basics curriculum and was used in this study to measure progress for students
in the Treatment and the Control groups.  Body Parts measures the knowledge of body parts; Receptive Language measures comprehension and vocabulary; and Expressive Language measures labeling and expressive communication.
All classrooms demonstrated improvement in language areas on the Brigance, but
–         The TeachTown Treatment Group showed much bigger changes in Body Image (i.e. identification of body parts) and Expressive Language.
–          The students in the preschool groups performed similarly on Receptive Language, but,
–         the K-1 students in the TeachTown Treatment group showed greater change than the Control K-1 students

NCTI- Brigance2.bmp

Results: Cognitive and Social Skill Changes on the Brigance Assessment from Pre (November, 2008) to Mid-Treatment (Feb, 2009)
The Preschool students had similar improvements in Matching on the Brigance, but TTB students (Tx Grp) made bigger gains than the Control group in Auditory Memory, General Concepts, and Social Skills.
The K-1 Students had similar improvements in General Concepts and Social Skills, but the TTB students (Tx Grp) made bigger gains in Matching and Auditory Memory.
Matching measures the child’s ability to match objects and categorize, Auditory Memory measures the child’s ability to understand and follow directions and to remember information that was presented to them, General Concepts measure the child’s basic early academic abilities (e.g. letters, numbers, etc.), and Social Skills measure the child’s knowledge of social situations (e.g. emotions, friendship, etc.).

Results: Language Changes on the PPVT-III and EVT Assessments from Pre (November, 2008) to Mid-Treatment (Feb, 2009)
The Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT-III) and the Expressive Vocabulary Test (EVT) were used to further measures changes in Receptive and Expressive Language skills.  Age-Equivalents are not shown because many students did not establish basal in Oct.  In Feb, there was a larger increase in the number of Preschool students establishing basal in the TeachTown group (4 additional students on PPVT, 5 additional students on EVT) compared to the Control group (1 additional student on PPVT & EVT).  The TeachTown (Tx) group also had slightly more students establishing basal in Feb (2 additional students on PPVT & EVT) compared to the Control group (1 additional student on PPVT & EVT).

Summary of Results

  • The Treatment group demonstrated much bigger increases in
    • Receptive and Expressive language using the PPVT-4, EVT-2, and the Brigance
    • Auditory Memory, General Concepts, and Social Skills for the Preschool students using the Brigan000_94_Bill_throwing1.pngce
    • Matching and Auditory Memory for the K-1 students using the Brigance
  • They also showed slightly larger increases in
    • Matching for the Preschool students using the Brigance
    • General Concepts and Social Skills for K-1 students using the Brigance
  • After 3 months of using the TeachTown: Basics program, students in the Treatment group:
    • Made significant gains from Pre to Post Tests in the TeachTown: Basics software
    • Learned 34-39 target concepts (on average) in the TeachTown: Basics software with the largest gains in Receptive Vocabulary

This is a summary of our results to date in a study in progress.  This is a collaborative research effort with Jigsaw Learning (TeachTown), Los Angeles Unified School District, and Cal State University, Los Angeles.  The study will conclude this summer and final results will be posted later this summer. 

National Center of Technology Innovation - Technology Innovators Conference

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008
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The National Center for Technology Innovation (NCTI) is hosting the Technology Innovators Conference in Washington, DC on November 20 and 21, 2008 at the Madison Hotel.  This conference will include technology developers, researchers, technology vendors, policymakers, OSEP projects, and the media.  Online registration is now closed. On-site registrations will be accepted.

The conference offers 2 days of informative presentations and an expo which will offer the following opportunities: 

TeachTown has received funding and support from NCTI and we are looking forward to a long-term relationship with the organization as our company grows.  Click here to see more about our history with NCTI.

Summer Strategies

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008
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One of the most difficult things facing families is what to do every year when summer comes!

Here are some useful sights to help you with the process:

1) This article gives practical advice for finding a summer program.

2) This article, written by a parent, is extremely helpful and talks about the importance of keeping up home programs over the summer.

3) This blog talks about ESY (Extended School Year) and your legal rights. In fact, this whole blog is about Law & Education and it written by an experienced lawyer - it is well done - I recommend checking it out!

4) Research often shows that children with autism are likely to lose skills when there is treatment is removed - typically developing children do not show as dramatic of a drop in their abilities with breaks in education. This finding has been shown in many studies in which a treatment is shown to be effective and generalizes to the natural environment - but at follow-up - skills are no longer present. Here is an example of a study with these kinds of findings (you may have to to order the original article if you are interested in reading the whole thing).

5) Many parent organizations (e.g. FEAT), clinics (e.g. New Horizons), and even summer camps (e.g. MySummerPrograms) are also available!

6) If you are not able to obtain services for summer or if you are getting limited services and think your child would benefit from more - TeachTown: Basics is an excellent gap-filler for your home or school program. In addition, Animated Speech Company offers software programs suitable for older children needing additional help with language.

Best of luck with your summer programs and stay tuned for tips for going back to school!

Interview with Krista Schultz, Registered Psychologist and Autism Expert

Monday, June 25th, 2007
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I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Krista Schultz, who works in Alberta, Canada with children with autism.  She is an ABA and developmental specialist and a frequent user of TeachTown with her clients.  I love her philosophy for teaching children and her passion for making a difference in the autism community.  I also really enjoyed her responses regarding technology and her feedback on TeachTown.  I hope you enjoy this as much as I did! 

Krista Picture.JPGInterview with Krista
May 2, 2007

1) Please provide us with a brief background about your education and credentials:

I am originally from Northern Alberta, Canada and received my first degree (Bachelor of Education) from the University of Alberta.  During teaching and then school counseling, I worked through a Master of Science degree in Educational Psychology with a Specialization in Developmental Psychology.  Since that time I have become a Registered Psychologist in the Province of Alberta and have continued to work in educational systems as well as home environments supporting children with special needs.

2) When and why did you start working with children with autism?

To be honest, it was quite unintentional.  Behavior has always been my key interest and I had been working with severe behavior disorders in children and adolescents. I am an avid proponent of the position that although we live in very rural areas, we should be providing children with services and professionals to the best of our abilities.  I received a call from a colleague who had a referral for an adolescent with autism and she asked if I would consult.  It was then that I realized that the area of autism and the families in our communities were sadly being under represented.  At that time, autism was not widely recognized.  Due to many factors, media included, I find there to be far more interest from the general public on the area of autism and thankfully, more recognition from service providers and educators to broaden their own knowledge of the diagnosis.

3) What positions have you had in the past and where do you work now?

I have been a teacher of many subjects, gifted students, educable mentally handicapped and those with severe behavioral disabilities.  As a Psychologist, I have a private practice and contract to school divisions, multidisciplinary teams and family agencies to provide assessment, support and programming for children with a variety of needs including those with medical conditions, FASD, severe behavioral disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorders and learning disabilities.  I am also a workshop facilitator on several subjects surrounding special needs children and learning. 

B & E.JPG4) What is the best part of your job?

Watching my clients successfully meet objectives and seeing the joy on the faces of parents.  AND, having clients whom other professionals cannot pick out of the classroom as the child who has the autism diagnosis!

5) What part of your job is most difficult?

Supporting families while waiting for services to be put in place.

6) What is your approach to using ABA? 

I believe that ABA incorporates many different teaching methods.  It is flexible and transitions between developmental stages as well as changes that a child presents during the course of their programming.  It is that flexibility - and the knowledge and openness to accept and embrace those times - that allows ABA programs to meet the needs of the individual child and address behavioral teaching.  Generalizing to natural settings and a comprehensive interventionist program that eventually fosters the fading of reinforcers is my key approach with my primary work being in school settings.

7) Other than ABA, what other treatment approaches do you incorporate into your practice?

My treatment practices in my work with autism have largely been guided by the science of ABA and the writings of Lovaas, Fenske, etc. 

8) Do you find that many children you work with benefit from using visual strategies?

Absolutely.  Given the difficulties with self regulation and auditory “overload”, many of the children I work with can build increased independent and functional skills from incorporating the visual modality.

at_computer.jpg9) How do you think that computers can help children with autism?

Computers are tools in our society.  Working with children with autism and using computers allows behavioral teaching and independence with skill building.  While the face to face, social component of interactions is certainly important, there are many aspects of teaching that can be completed by the use of computers.

10) Do you think computers can help parents, in what way?

Often the parents with whom I consult are eager, interested and motivated but they are not therapists or teachers.  They are not autism specialists or experts.  Having the technology and support of a good program that is effectively addressing the unique needs of their child(ren) with autism is empowering and motivating.  It also allows parents to be parents and not have the worry of appropriate programming or seeking out multidisciplinary teams to do, essentially, similar work.  Given our shortage of professionals in many areas and the factor of rural living, computers also “shrink” and sometimes eliminate barriers to effective programming.

11) How can computers help schools?

In our province, technology in schools is priority and for children with autism we find that while teachers want to offer similar experiences, they are often at a loss to make these times meaningful and functional.  In several situations this year, I have been exploring the use of TeachTown in a variety of settings in schools.  Again, non-expert facilitation and the preparation time that computers offer teaching professionals has been invaluable.

12) How do you use computers in your position and how can other clinicians benefit from technology?

I have been far more open to using technology and computers as tools for increasing functionality, independence and skillstreaming.  We are fortunate in this day and age that assistive technology devices and technology such as TeachTown has vastly reduced barriers that would have otherwise made appropriate and beneficial teaching very difficult or unrealistic.

13) What aspects of TeachTown: Basics are most helpful for you?teachtown cloud background1.JPG

The non-expert model has been very motivating for those unfamiliar with autism.  The ease of setting the program up and moving parents and para-professionals through the trials has been excellent.  As an educational psychologist working with Individual Program Plans, the data, ease of collection and simplicity of results (graphs, etc.) have provided solid evidence of progress for clients.  Teachers have been thrilled with the explanations of objectives for sessions as it has allowed more meaningful short and long term goals to be added into the child’s program plan.

14) If you were on the design team at TeachTown, what would you do next to improve or enhance TeachTown: Basics?

Expand the developmental levels to promote additional training for older children!

15) What future directions should TeachTown take for developing other products?

I would like to see TeachTown work with assistive technology professionals to address the needs of children with autism who may present with additional impairments such as hearing impairments, visual problems or severe fine motor skill deficits. 

Universal Usability Book

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007
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51hmkEvnARL__SS500_.jpgIn a new book from Wiley Publishers called Universal Usability: Designing Computer Interfaces for Diverse Populations (click on this link to order the book) by Jonathon Lazar, TeachTown has a chapter written by myself, Dr. Lars Liden (our CTO), Dr. Brooke Ingersoll (now with Michigan State University), and Sven Liden.  In Chapter 9, TeachTown highlights the development process and research for producing TeachTown: Basics.  The chapter briefly reviews the literature on treatments for autism and computer-assisted interventions, it also emphasizes the importance of using evidence-based practices and implications of computer instruction is discussed along with future research directions of TeachTown and other technology-based autism companies.

ABSTRACT FROM CHAPTER 9screen_monkey.jpg (Whalen, Liden, Ingersoll, & Liden)

EVIDENCE-BASED COMPUTER-ASSISTED INSTRUCTION FOR AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS

Current trends in treatment and education for children focus on the importance of using evidence-based practices (e.g. Reichart, 2001).  Because of the numerous treatment and education options available for children with autism, many of which are not supported by research, the use of evidence-based practices is particularly important (Perry & Condillac, 2003) and many schools are mandating these practices.  With recent advances Picture1.jpgin computer technology, there has been a strong interest in the use of computer-assisted instruction (CAI) in the treatment and education of children (Parkin, 2006).  Due to the unique characteristics and learning styles of children with autism, the interest and need for CAI is especially strong (e.g. Goldsmith & LeBlanc, 2004).  In this chapter, evidence-based practices for autism, particularly Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), will be reviewed as well as the research on technology and computers for this population.  The importance of developing evidence-based technology for children with autism and other special needs will be discussed along with the implications for designers and researchers.

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