The number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders is growing worldwide, which increases the need for therapeutic interventions.
Modern technologies are gaining in popularity as a means of searching for new solutions that would increase the effectiveness, range, and availability of therapy. Therapists and therapy centers use devices such as tablets or computers in child therapy more and more often.
We should ask ourselves a question at this point: Can a tablet, a computer, or any modern technology really be used to good effect for the therapy of children with ASD?
Try it out by yourself and meet the ABA DrOmnibus Resource App – the first software from the ABA industry that has successfully joined the Google ecosystem. In 2017, DrOmnibus was invited as one of four European companies to join San Francisco’s Google Launchpad Accelerator.
According to the 2014 report “Evidence-Based Practices for Children, Youth, and Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder,” interventions and instructions featuring technology as the primary element that supports the learning of new skills meet the criterion of evidence-based intervention (Wong et al., n/a), which means that they can create a socially significant change for children with ASD.
Research conducted so far suggests that persons with autism are able to learn to handle electronic devices, such as a tablet, on their own. Scientist have analyzed the available studies and concluded that tablets and touchscreen phones can be applied effectively in educational programs that aim to develop school skills, communication, vocational skills, and the ability to rest and play. A report from the analysis indicated that success in learning to use these devices effectively depends to a great extent on whether you follow the well-established procedures based on applied behavior analysis (Kagohara et al., 2013).
Browsing through the apps and devices available at the Apple Store and other sites reveals four major areas in which these apps and devices are used:
- Educational skills, e.g., learning new skills through the discrete trial method;
- Communication, both verbal and alternative;
- Entertainment; and
- Everyday skills, e.g. activity plans or video modeling.
Research on the applicability of tablets covers many fields. In one study, researchers observed interventions involving an iPad that aimed to teach preschool children to wait for their turn when playing games with their peers. The fundamental question asked by the study was, “Does the application of an iPad significantly affect the effectiveness of the planned intervention?”. The study was conducted with a pair of twins. The use of an app had a nearly immediate effect with one of the twins, helping them to learn a new skill (Kim & Clarke, 2015). The authors of the study underline that while there are still too few studies confirming the effectiveness of tablets, new studies appear regularly that suggest that tablets can be applied to a good effect for teaching children social skills and interactions with their peers.
Research has been growing dynamically over the past few years, as has researchers’ interest in the matter. One of the most popular subjects is alternative communication. There is a wide range of tools and apps for tablets available on the market that, according to their developers, support communication.
Pubmed, a popular scientific browser, has a considerable number of studies on devices that aid alternative communication. One of the studies investigates the choice of communication tools, in this case, iPad and GoTalk, and the number of mands, or requests submitted using a given tool. Initial results show that the iPad, as a tool with a wider availability and higher prevalence in learning history, provided a decidedly better effect than GoTalk. However, remember that due to the limited number of studies, we cannot say with full certainty that iPads will always provide the best results (Torelli et al., 2015).
Let us now take a look at how we can use tablets to teach everyday skills. Will video modeling be as effective on mobile devices as on stationary ones? The aforementioned study, in addition to a tv set and a pc, also used a tablet to teach such skills as cooking, laying the table, folding trousers, or cleaning the bathroom. The participants of the study were two 18-year-old men. Both were able to learn more effectively thanks to video modeling. Even more importantly, however, the data suggested that video modeling is equally as effective on mobile and traditional devices, yet mobile devices make video modeling available to a wider group of persons, situations, and environments (Aldi et al., 2016).
Finally, let us take a look at a study that used an iPad to teach advanced responses, which involved listeners matching sounds to words. A significant improvement in these skills among the participating children demonstrated that traditional learning protocols can be successfully transferred onto mobile devices and lead to significant changes (Du, Speckman, Medina, & Cole-Hatchard, 2017).
The above information presents only a small part of research that is carried out throughout the world. In sum, we may conclude that tablets can not only be successfully applied in therapy, but they can also lead to socially significant changes and expand the availability of effective therapy.
One of the apps designed to improve the effectiveness and availability of therapy is ABA DrOmnibus Pro. Its creators have taken care to translate the learning techniques based on applied behavior analysis onto an app that can be used by both therapists and parents on a tablet or a computer.
Aldi, C., Crigler, A., Kates-McElrath, K., Long, B., Smith, H., Rehak, K., & Wilkinson, L. (2016). Examining the Effects of Video Modeling and Prompts to Teach Activities of Daily Living Skills. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 9(4), 384–388. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40617-016-0127-y
Du, L., Speckman, J., Medina, M., & Cole-Hatchard, M. (2017). The Effects of an Auditory Matching iPad App on Three Preschoolers’ Echoic and Listener Responses. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 10(2), 118–130. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40617-017-0174-z
Kagohara, D. M., van der Meer, L., Ramdoss, S., O’Reilly, M. F., Lancioni, G. E., Davis, T. N., … Sigafoos, J. (2013). Using iPods® and iPads® in teaching programs for individuals with developmental disabilities: A systematic review. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 34(1), 147–156. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ridd.2012.07.027
Kim, S., & Clarke, E. (2015). Case study: An iPad-based intervention on turn-taking behaviors in preschoolers with autism. Behavioral Development Bulletin, 20(2), 253–264. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0101314
Torelli, J. N., Lambert, J. M., Da Fonte, M. A., Denham, K. N., Jedrzynski, T. M., & Houchins-Juarez, N. J. (2015). Assessing Acquisition of and Preference for Mand Topographies During Functional Communication Training. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 9(2), 165–168. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40617-015-0083-y
Wong, C., Odom, S. L., Hume, K., Cox, A. W., Fettig, A., Kucharczyk, S., … Schultz, T. R. (b.d.). Evidence-Based Practices for Children, Youth, and Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder, 114.
Łukasz Prochwicz – Psychologist. Graduated from the Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw. Post-graduate degrees in early support at the Special Pedagogics Academy in Warsaw and in applied behavior analysis at SWPS University in Warsaw. Completed a range of training programs, including training at the PaTTAN Center at the Special Education branch of the Pennsylvania Education Department. Personal therapist at the Scholar Foundation (http://scolar.pl).
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