This fast-track application requests support to develop and field test software for functional communication training for children with autism and related neurodevelopmental disorders.
Aim ed principally at behavior therapists, special educators, and speech/language professionals, the software will support implementation of augmentative/alternative communication (AAC) approaches that use pictures to aid functional communication. Picture-aided communication systems are now widely used in functional communication training, most notably in the widely used PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System). The proposed product will address three critical stages in such functional communication training: (1) establishing the first instances of reliable discrimination among pictures and corresponding objects, (2) accelerating expansion of the picture-discrimination repertoire, and (3) establishing and expanding pictures sequences to support progressively more capable picture-aided communication. The working title of the product is Picture-Aided Communication System Manager (PACSMan). The scientific foundation for PACSMan is extensive, deriving from dozens of publications in professional journals over the past three decades. The program will manage the therapist-child interface within a PECS-like teaching environment. The software will (1) display sequences of stimulus items and their configurations to be presented, (2) allow the therapist to quickly and conveniently enter data corresponding to the child's behavior, (3) make automated on-the-fly queries of an individual-child database in order make decisions concerning the nature of the teaching sequences (i.e., when to add new items, when to accelerate teaching, when to remediate, etc.), and generally support an ongoing process of optimizing individualized instruction in picture-aided communication. This STTR project features a unique partnership between the UMMS Shriver Center, which established the evidence basis for the product, and Praxis, Inc., which contributes intellectual property whereby the product can be rapidly and cost-effectively developed.
The primary focus of this research is development of communication in children with little or no functional language due to autism or other neurodevelopmental disorder. The specific emphasis is on methods to support symbolic communication in such children. We hope that our research will lead to methods that will make positive outcomes of behavior therapy more robust and reliable.
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