Objectives: This research aims to explore how a computer-based application can support practitioners who work with children with ASC to build, present and assess social stories. The research questions addressed are as follows:
1. What are the practitioners’ procedures and practices when working with social stories?
2. Can the technology facilitate the construction, presentation and assessment of social stories? If so, in which ways?
3. Does the computer-based technology enhance the practitioners’ activity when using social stories?
4. Does the computer-based technology have a positive impact on the social communication skills of children with ASC?
Methods: A study with four teachers has been conducted, using task analysis and think aloud protocol, followed by semi-structured interviews. The empirical data have been analysed using Grounded Theory strategies (categorizing strategies, connecting strategies and memos). A combination of techniques (heuristic evaluation, cognitive walkthrough, query techniques and brainstorming) has been applied iteratively in various stages of the design to evaluate the low fidelity prototype and to improve it. An evolutionary prototyping approach is adopted to develop the system. Formative evaluation workshops with practitioners and children are taking place to continually refine the system. The final evaluation will be conducted in two steps. Firstly, an experiment will attempt to discover the effect of computer assisted social stories construction on teachers’ activity. This will answer question 3. Secondly, a multiple baseline experimental design will be conducted with children with ASC. To answer question 4, the SCERTS assessment process (SAP) will be used to measure the impact of social stories on children’s social communication skills.
Results: Preliminary results have revealed interesting ideas about how to facilitate and improve the construction, presentation and assessment of social stories using a software application. A computer-based application has been built with two kinds of interfaces: one for teachers and one for children with ASC. Some of the main application features allow teachers to: create new social stories (with complete or partial sentences), choose to be guided through the construction of social stories or not, add customized rewards (using some libraries), annotate the sentences, assess and schedule social stories, add child’s profile, or personalize existing social stories. Children can listen or read social stories either on computer or on paper. They can complete the partial sentences and get rewards.
Conclusions: Early data suggest that this computer-based application for social stories may have a positive impact on teachers’ effectiveness (measured by the time required to accomplish various tasks, effort and resources). It is also anticipated that a computer assisted social story presentation will increase children’s motivation and engagement resulting in the improvement of their social communication skills in a shorter time comparing with the same intervention using paper and pencil.