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A Computer-based Social Intervention for Students with High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders: Using Technology to Improve Special Education

Fast Track (Phases I and II)

Project Info

Project Description

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
ID: ED-IES-11-C-0033
PI: JANEY MCMILLEN
TERM: 06/11 – 12/13

Schools are experiencing high demand for providing social interventions for students with high functioning autism spectrum disorders (HF-ASD). Students with HF-ASD face unique challenges with social skills and social relationships. Without intervention in the school setting, these social difficulties can interfere significantly with students’ ability to engage in and learn at school. Although social goals are frequently included as part of Individualized Education Plans, few social interventions are available to schools that are both evidence-based and feasible to implement in an educational setting. Further, educators would greatly benefit from tools that allow them to simultaneously implement a social intervention and measure its impact on students’ social functioning.

Through this SBIR Fast Track project (Phase I and Phase II), cutting-edge narrative generation technology will be used to transform the traditional social story intervention into a fully interactive computer-based social intervention for elementary students with HF-ASD. This intervention, titled the Social Story Theater (SST), will be easily integrated into the classroom environment with the ability to not only enhance students’ social problem solving skills, but also document progress toward specific measurable social goals. SST will leverage technology to (a) effectively engage students with HF-ASD in the social story intervention; (b) increase educators’ access to the social story intervention through easy-to-use technology; and (c) enhance educators’ skills for implementing the intervention with students through web-based professional development tools.

Phase I of this project will include development of prototype software for the Social Story Theater, including a social story to address one specific area of social difficulty (e.g., joining a group of peers). Workgroups will be conducted with professionals who work with third through fifth grade students with HF-ASD to assess feasibility, usability, and value of the software. In addition, usability testing will be conducted with students, and student performance is expected to be associated with parent report of social functioning. Following the Phase I testing, full development will begin with continued funding into Phase II. The prototype software will be improved based on feedback and expanded to include 12 social stories. Iterative testing with students will be conducted to ensure that the software operates as intended. Finally, the complete product will undergo pilot testing in the school setting. Students will be randomly assigned to receive the SST versus usual services.

Results of Phase II Pilot testing are expected to show participation in SST to be associated with better outcomes (e.g., larger gains in social problem solving) than those for students in the comparison group. We also expect SSTto be highly feasible, usable, and preferable to current methods of social skill intervention.

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