Objectives: To examine whether an “enforced collaboration” paradigm enhances the ability of children with High Functioning (HF) ASD to interact in social situations. Specifically, we investigated whether this paradigm improved the children's cooperative skills, play behavior, pro-social behaviors, non-verbal communicative behaviors, play skills and decreased their repetitive behaviors.
Methods: Instrumentation. Circle Twelve’s “Diamond Touch” table, a touch-and-gesture-activated device designed to support small-group collaboration, was used to implement the “enforced collaboration” paradigm. This technology is unique in its ability to identify simultaneous inputs from multiple users. The StoryTable, an application run on the Diamond Touch, was designed to require that some of the tasks be performed simultaneously by the children.
Participants included 14 children with HFASD, aged 8-12 years, and with a verbal IQ above 80.
Procedures. The children were divided into seven pairs according their level of language as the major criterion. The intervention consisted of 12 30-minute sessions given over 4 weeks. Children participated in pairs to select a story background from a multimedia repository and composed a narrative while taking turns recording it via the StoryTable audio recorder. The “enforced collaboration” paradigm was implemented through the need to perform specific simultaneous functions (e.g., selecting a mutually acceptable background, playing back the recorded story). A moderator used Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques to teach basic collaboration concepts prior to each session. All interactions and the pre and post tests described below were videotaped and behaviors were coded using the Social Interaction Observation which assessed cooperative skills and social interactions including social conversation and play as well as autistic behaviors.
The children were assessed prior to and following the intervention using one high technology task: (1) the collaborative puzzle game, a non-narrative, “enforced collaboration” task also implemented via the DiamondTouch table, and three non-technology tasks including (2) a board game version of the StoryTable task, (3) a collaborative construction game (MarbleWorks) and (4) a collaborative collage.
Results: There was improvement in three areas of social behaviors: (1) more initiations of positive social interaction with peers; (2) higher levels of shared play; and (3) lower frequency of autistic behaviors while using the StoryTable in comparison to the free construction game activity.
Conclusions: The results suggest that the “enforced cooperation” paradigm may: (1) serve as an environment that potentially meets the needs of children with HFASD, (2) have considerable potential for enhancing several key social behaviors, (3) help control the need that these children have to exhibit autistic behaviors, and (4) generalize to other tasks that require collaboration. This study provides a base for developing further technologies to enhance social interaction among children with ASD.