Web-Based Social Stories and Games for Children with Autism

Web-Based Social Stories and Games for Children with Autism

Kanisorn Jeekratok, Sumalee Chanchalor, Elizabeth Murphy
DOI: 10.4018/ijwltt.2014100103
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Children with (ASD) may respond well to web–based learning because computers can provide features such as repetition, visual stimuli and independent interactions that appeal to them. However, there has been limited testing of web-based learning especially outside of institutional settings. The study reported on in this paper involved the testing of open, web-based games and social stories for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The web-based learning was accessible by parents, teachers, health professionals and children in an institutional and home setting and consisted of four social stories and seven games housed in a website. Pre- and post-testing of the web-based learning took place over a three-month period with 10 children with ASD enrolled in a special-education center in North-Eastern Thailand. Testing was conducted using observation. Analysis involved descriptive statistics, parametric t-tests and Wilcoxon Signed-Rank tests. Results revealed improvement for all behaviors although not for all children. Implications include the need for future studies that rely on more participants and that focus on transferability of learned behaviors to real-life contexts. Future studies might also include longitudinal designs to determine sustainability of newly learned behaviors and the design of web-based environments that adapt to or are more specifically tailored to individual needs of children with ASD.
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1. Introduction

The prevalence of children with autism, or what is more specifically referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in eight-year olds in the U.S.A. is estimated to be as high as one in 88 children (Baio, 2012). In Thailand, where the study reported on in this paper was conducted, estimates for 2006 listed approximately 200,000 children with ASD (Ministry of Education, Thailand 2006). Children with ASD exhibit a range of symptoms related to “social development, communication, and repetitive behaviors” (Sansosti & Powell-Smith, 2008, p.162), facial expression and emotion recognition difficulties (Leggett et al., 2010; Silver & Oakes, 2001), impaired communication and social interaction combined with restricted and repetitive behavior (American Psychiatric Association, 2000), lack of empathy (Bernard-Opitz, Sriram, & Nakhoda-Sapuan, 2001), impaired discrimination between and detection of colors (Franklin, Sowden, Burley, Notman & Alder, 2008), and exceptional attention to detail as well as a preference for rule-based, structured information (Baron_Cohen, 2002). They may also exhibit behaviors that can be characterised as disruptive, inappropriate and even dangerous (Kientz et al., 2007). Children with ASD may also exhibit patterns of thinking that are rigid and that may result in difficulties adapting to new rules but that can also be remediated using highly-structured intervention models such as the TEACCH approach (Texas Statewide Leadership for Autism, 2009, p. 1). An important aspect of the TEACCH approach involves providing an ordered and structured setting for students (Mesibov, Shea, Schopler, 2004).

Anecdotal reports have suggested that computer use may help remediate some of the problems faced by children with ASD and their parents/guardians and caregivers. Ultimately, computers “can potentially lead to novel and more effective treatment strategies and enhance quality of life for people with ASD and their families” (Bölte, Golan, Goodwin, & Zwaigenbaum, 2010, p. 155). Children with ASD may be motivated by computer use (Sansosti, & Powell-Smith, 2008) and by sound and action (Calvert, 1999). Additionally, use of computers may improve social skills in these children (Bernard-Opitz et al., 2001). One advantage of use of computers may be related to the ability to create predictable, rule-based systems with repetitive patterns to which children with autism tend to be naturally drawn and which may be “soothing…because of their ‘need for sameness” (Leggett et al., 2010, p. 271). Another advantage may relate to the children’s preference for visual stimuli (Mineo, Ziegler, Gill, & Salkin, 2009, p. 172). As Mineo et al. (2009) observed, “… the very nature of electronic screen media renders them ideal for the delivery of information to this population” (p. 172). Additionally, computers and their software serve as patient tutors, provide responses linked contingently with students’ needs and can create “an intrinsically interesting learning environment that appeals to children with autism” (Moore & Calvert, 2000, p. 359). Computer-animated agents, for example, are like “perpetual teaching machine”, not only available 365 days of the year but never becoming angry, impatient bored or tired (Bosseler & Massaro, 2003, p.667). Children with ASD may also benefit from the freedom from social demands characteristic of computer-based environments (Silver & Oakes 2001).

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