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Dr. Chris’ Autism Journal
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Early Results of National Center for Technology Innovation (NCTI) Study with TeachTown Efficacy in Pre-1st ASD Classrooms


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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. 

Top Autism Treatments


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In a recent About: Autism Spectrum Disorders posting, the top 10 treatment approaches for autism were listed along with helpful links for each of these approaches.  The top 10 were determined by popularity, research, and most effective overall.

The top 10 listed were:100_0152.JPG

1) Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

2) Speech Therapy

3) Occupational Therapy

4) Social Skills TherapyB and Trish.jpg

5) Physical Therapy

6) Play Therapy

7) Behavior Therapy/Positive Behavior Support

8) Developmental TherapiesEl 1.jpg

9) Visually-based Therapies

10) Biomedical Therapies

I would like to see a similar list, in order, of those that are the most research-based and have evidence of effectiveness with the largest number of children with autism.  Organizations such as the National Autism Center are dedicated to coming up with good ways to make these kinds of lists and to develop rankings for treatment approaches which will be based on research and effectiveness for ASD.  This project is called the National Standards Project and the expert panel and conceptual reviewers include a prestigious group of autism researchers including several of our TeachTown science advisory board members including Dr. Ilene Schwartz, Dr. William Frea, and Dr. Aubyn Stahmer.

J computer.jpgI would also like to see more studies on technology and which programs are effective and which ones are not.  It won’t be long before Computer-Assisted Instruction is added to the list above, I just hope that developers, and perhaps more importantly, university researchers continue to conduct the necessary research to keep improving these programs.

**Please see comments from the author of the ABOUT blog, she makes some excellent comments and I completely agree with her!**

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