In our efforts to develop innovative treatments that can be easily distributed into the community, we are currently developing web-based tools for school-aged children to improve social functioning. There is evidence to suggest that video-based and computer-based interventions can be useful in building individual social skills and enhancing peer relationships for children with autism. We want to test this evidence. By comparing this intervention with a wait-list control group, we are evaluating the utility of using online programs to improve social outcomes for school-aged children (ages 8-12) with autism. If successful, this program will enable us to serve a much larger audience than is feasible in the clinic.
Peer relationships are considered a key factor in healthy development from early childhood through adulthood. However, many children with autism struggle to develop and maintain core peer relationships. Though we are making significant improvements in social communicative interventions in the field, many families of children with ASD do not have easy access to this information, especially those in low-income areas who do not live close to a university or autism center and those in communities with limited availability of evidence-based services. The AIR-B Network seeks to provide a solution to this problem by creating online services that can be accessed anywhere.
This project is in the development phase. Participants will be between the ages of 8-12 years old and must be able to read at a 3rd grade level to be considered for this study. We are creating an online storyboard that is similar in form to a “choose your own adventure” story that engages children in social decisions in a fun and motivating way. The stories are based on common social environments, such as the school lunchroom, the playground, or a play date with a friend. As the child navigates through the story, they make relevant social choices that impact the character in the tale. If the child does not like the outcome, they can start over, making more appropriate social decisions to receive a more desirable result. (For example, the child could have their character choose to talk to a classmate in line in the cafeteria, and this might lead to the character sitting with friends at the end of the story; whereas ignoring a classmate in line might lead to the character sitting alone at the end.) The storyboard allows the child to practice common social situations and see the consequences or rewards of their decisions in a very low-risk environment.