Implementation of a Computer-Assisted Intervention with Preschool and School-Aged Children Who Have Autism in Public Schools

Friday, May 15, 2015: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Imperial Ballroom (Grand America Hotel)
J. Simon1 and K. R. MacDonald2, (1)TeachTown, Boulder, CO, (2)TeachTown Inc., Seattle, DC

During the 2011—2012 and 2012—2013 school years, 264 districts in 40 states and 3 provinces across the United States and Canada, respectively, used TeachTown: Basics with 2,842 students who had autism spectrum disorder in preschool through grade 8. TeachTown: Basics combines lessons delivered through a computer with teacher-delivered instructional activities. 


This evaluation addressed the following questions: (1) how much do teachers implement the computer-assisted portion of the curriculum in their classrooms and does usage change over time?; (2) how much progress do students make over eight months of program use? ; and (3) how many discrete trial exercises do students complete before mastering a lesson?


Student usage and progress data as well as chronological age and gender were examined for students enrolled in the program.  Data were downloaded from the Teachtown online reporting system. Results are reported for students who had used the program for at least eight months, which included 382 students (program use range: 8 to 21 months). The mean age was 6.9 years old (range: 2.9 to 17.8 years old; SD: 2.5). Eighty-one percent of the sample was male.

The computer-based lessons are delivered in a discrete trial format. The student is provided with a specific instruction, and selects the correct response from a field of 3 to 8 choices. Correct responses are immediately reinforced using verbal praise and graphics. The lessons use specific prompting procedures, such as fading the incorrect answers. Teaching strategies include repeated trials, teaching multiple exemplars of concepts, and interspersing easy tasks while teaching new concepts. The curriculum progresses through five levels of difficulty and addresses six domains: 1) adaptive skills, 2) cognitive skills, 3) language arts, 4) language development, 5) mathematics, and 6) social emotional skills. Continuous progress monitoring and automatic data collection are part of the program. Students complete pretests and must pass posttests before moving on to the next lesson. Each lesson targets an average of three concepts or skills. Teachers are asked to have the child spend 20 minutes a day on the software. 


Total hours spent on the program was less than the amount of time recommended by the publisher and varied significantly with student age and month of use (see Figure 1). Approximately 97 percent of students mastered at least one lesson. The mean number of lessons mastered was 18.8 (range 0 to 96; SD: 15.6). The number of lessons mastered was positively related to the amount of time spent on the software (see Figure 2). The average number of exercises taken to master a lesson varied across learning domains. Students completed significantly more exercises to master lessons in adaptive and social emotional domains than cognitive skills and language arts domains (see Figure 3).


The results indicated that although average program usage was lower than the minimum amount of usage recommended by the publisher, usage was consistent over time. Further, students who spent more time on the program mastered substantially more lessons and material than students who spent less time on the program.