Learning Framework for Children With Autism

This project is a result of a desire to make the application, which could help children with special needs in learning basic concepts - shapes. Furthermore, this is the first application of its kind in Bosnian language (with support for other languages​​), which these children have used.

Teaching children with autism requires special set of tools and methods, due to decreased level of attention towards stimuli presented and lessened capability to learn in the ways typical children do, which is manifested within this population. It
has been previously shown that computer-assisted intervention is not only an effective method for developing various skills, allowing both learning with teachers and practicing on their own time without the teacher’s direct attention, but it nonetheless increases the motivation and results in faster acquisition of these skills.

In this project we made a first step in developing the LeFCA framework, that will be used for teaching children with autism basic skills and concepts.The framework has been tested across various levels of learners with and without disabilities across 3 different languages: Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian (BHS), Italian and English (US). Within the pilot project, we produced four games for teaching matching, pointing out (based on visual and auditory stimuli) and labeling skills, which are considered to be primary skills needed for learning. We then expanded the frame with adding four more games that teach sorting, categorizing, sequencing and pattern making. The main goal was to teach autistic children basic shapes: square, circle, triangle, rectangle, rhombus, star, heart, hexagon, and semicircle, and provide a transfer to a new environment.

 

Program we have created for young children in B&H is based on the Learn Unit, an interlocking three-term contingency A-B-C based on the “frames” in Skinner’s programmed instruction [1, 2, 3]. Also, it follows Whalen, et al.’s components of successful computer program in education [4]. Each task within the program will have a clear:

  • Antecedent: picture and/or auditory direction, requiring student’s response (e.g. “Where is the ? / Find / Which one is ?” etc.),
  • Behaviour: action from the student to complete the task, response to the antecedent (e.g. clicking on the picture, dragging the picture, etc.), and a
  • Consequence / feedback: providing a student with a direct and instant feedback for each correct response and a correction for an incorrect response.

The results of our user study, done with 20 participants in three different languages, showed that the created software in native languages was completely clear and user friendly for kids with and without special needs, and that is systematically and developmentally appropriately sequenced for learning. Additionally, we found that children were able to generalize learned skills, through a transfer to a new mediums or environments and their teacher reported that children were very motivated and enjoyed playing the games.

 

References: 

[1] B. F. Skinner, Teaching machines., Science 128 (3330) (1958) 969–977.
[2] B. F. Skinner, The Technology of Teaching., Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1968.
[3] E. A. Vargas, J. S. Vargas, Programmed instruction: What it is and how to do it, Journal of Behavioral Education 1 (1991) 235–251, 10.1007/BF00957006. URL http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/BF00957006
[4] C. Whalen, D. W. Massaro, L. Franke, Generalization in computer-assisted intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders, in: C. Whalen (Ed.), Real Life, Real Progress for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Brookes Publishing Co., 2009, pp. 223–233.