Many interventions for children with High functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders (HFASD) focus on the promotion of social and communication skills, core symptoms of the diagnosis of ASD. Since these children face great challenges in coping with social interactions, they often prefer to engage in solitary, computer-based activities. Technologies that support collaboration rather than isolation are, therefore, of unique benefit for those with HFASD.
To present a colocated collaborative prototype called No-Problem! And aimed at improving social conversation skills, and the results of a formative study designed to provide end user feedback on the prototype.
Following guidelines for software design and incorporating feedback from end user focus group discussions, the No Problem! prototype was programmed to train social conversation skills. Based on a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) approach, No Problem! includes a learning part and an experience part. In the learning part pairs of children, guided by a faciltator, explore the four stages of a social conversation: initiating, maintaining, switching topic and closing the conversation. The children explore alternative solutions or suggest new ways of managing each phase. The experience part consists of a recording tool for the faciltator to involve the children in a role playing session, video-recording their performance and reviewing it together with them.
We examined the usability of the prototype when run on two different platforms: a tabletop touch-based device and a multi-mice desktop version. Nine boys and one girl with HFASD, aged 9-13 years, enrolled in special education classes (Grades 2-5) within a mainstream elementary school, participated in a single session. Three questionnaires, the Scenario Experience Feedback Questionnaire (SEFQ), the Scenario Learning Feedback Questionnaire (SLFQ) and Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (IMI) were used to query the children’s interest in and enjoyment of the task, perceived competence, perceived choice and feelings of tension, and how well they understood and felt about the problem and solution parts of the task. They were administered to the children after the sessions. In a qualitative part of the study, the children were interviewed about what they learned from the session and about their preferences related to using the DT versus the multi-mice desktop computer.
The results suggest that children were motivated by the task, both when presented on the DT and the multi-mice platform. They felt competent doing it, perceived that they could make choices during the task, and felt minimal tension. They understood the main aims of the conversation tasks, and the various phases. Most of the children preferred using the tabletop rather than the computer, but enjoyed both of them.
The results of the current study have helped to ensure that No Problem! is a usable and enjoyable application and suitable to achieve its therapeutic goals. While it seems to be more appealing when used on the tabeltop device, it appears to be also beneficial when implemented via a less costly and technically complex platform.