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IES Contract

Title: A Computer-based Social Intervention for Students with High Functioning ASD: Using Technology to Improve Special Education
Center: NCSER Year: 2011
Principal Investigator: Abbott, Claire J. Awardee: 3-C Institute for Social Development
Program: Small Business Innovation Research in Special Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2.5 years Award Amount: $1,050,000
Type: Fast Track Award Number: EDIES11C0033

Product Video Demonstration:

Purpose: Students with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders (HF-ASD) face unique challenges with social skills and social relationships, often experiencing heightened levels of social isolation and exclusion from social opportunities. Without intervention, these social difficulties can interfere significantly with studentsí ability to engage in and learn at school. However, few social interventions are available that are both evidence-based and feasible to implement in a school. Further, products that allow educators to simultaneously implement a social intervention and measure its impact on students' social functioning are lacking. This project will develop a fully interactive, computer-based social intervention for elementary school students with HF-ASD.

Project Activities: The development process will entail designing graphics for the characters and scenery, scripting the hierarchy of dialog and behavioral menu choices available to the student, defining the scoring algorithms for assessing social problem solving, and integrating instructional content. The research team will use a mixed-method design to assess the prototype with 45 students and a group of teachers and then make iterative refinements based on feedback. After development is complete, the researchers will assess the feasibility and usability and promise of the product to improve social functioning in 50 special education classrooms. Half of the classrooms will be randomly assigned to participate in Social Skills Training (SST) while the other half will receive services as usual over a period of two months. Measures will include student attitudes and behaviors relating to social skills and decision making.

Product: The Social Story Theatre will be a web-based platform in which 3rd through 5th grade students with HF-ASD will engage with animated scripts that address challenges in their lives in order to facilitate improved social functioning. The scripts will include an array of characters, objects, and locations in a virtual story world. An avatar-builder will be available so that students can customize their avatarís gender, clothes, hair color and style, and skin color. The calibration function will customize the level of difficulty at which students will enter the scenarios. The performance scoring algorithm and data tracker will formatively assess performance, scaffolding social learning, and provide reports to teachers.