Facilitating the Authoring of Multimedia Social Skills Instructional Modules for Adolescents with High-functioning Autism

Autism is a phenomenon that has touched the lives of many families around the world, and encompasses individuals with a wide range of needs and abilities. My work is targeted towards adolescents and young adults with high-functioning autism (HFA), which despite being a subset of the general autism phenotype, remain a highly heterogeneous population [1].

Difficulties in social skills are generally considered defining characteristics of HFA [2]. Social skills can be defined as specific behaviors that result in positive social interactions and encompass both verbal and non-verbal behaviors necessary for effective interpersonal communication [3]. Difficulties in social skills interfere with the educational experiences and quality of life of individuals with HFA, and interventions must be highly individualized to be effective. For this reason, I am interested in exploring ways in which technology may play a role in facilitating the creation of customized instructional modules that can assist individuals with the acquisition of social skills. Indications are that my target population, adolescents and young adults with HFA, respond well to computer-assisted instruction [4]. Furthermore, there was a general call for more technologies that specifically target social skills training [5].

For my thesis research, I explore a way in which artificial intelligence and crowdsourcing techniques can be used to facilitate the authoring of interactive software to provide individualized social problem solving skills training. I choose to target adolescents and young adults because they are underrepresented with respect to applicable therapies, they are more likely to have complex social skills needs, and research indicates that they should be targeted for social skills intervention [6]. For example, an adolescent with HFA may want to go to a movie theatre without the assistance of a parent or guardian. Can a software module be developed to help that individual prepare for that social context? Furthermore, can a system be developed that helps parents and caregivers to author these modules themselves? Such a system would address one of the most challenging aspects of teaching children with autism; the need for individualized instruction for a highly heterogeneous population. These are questions that I would like to answer with my research.

  1. Baron-Cohen, S. Autism and Asperger's Syndrome. 160. Oxford University Press, September 2008.
  2. Howlin, P. Outcome in High-Functioning Adults with Autism with and without Language Delays: Implications for the Differentiation Between Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 33: 3-13. 2003.
  3. Gresham, F. M. Conceptual and Definitional Issues in the Assessment of Children’s Social Skills: Implications for Classification and Training. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 15(1), 3–15. 1986.
  4. Williams, C. Wright, B., Callaghan, G., Coughlan. B. Do Children with Autism Learn to Read more Readily by Computer Assisted Instruction or Traditional Book Methods? Autism, 6(1): 71-91, 2002.
  5. C. Putman. and L. Chong. Software and technologies designed for people with autism: What do users want? In Proc. of ASSETS 2008.
  6. Rao, P.A. Beidel, D.C. and Murray, M.J. Social Skills Interventions for Children with Asperger's Syndrome or High-Functioning Autism: A Review and Recommendations. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38(2): 353-361. 2008.