Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects 1 in 110 children in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that there are currently 730,000 children in the U.S. between 0 and 21 with ASD. Language impairment is a common characteristic of ASD, commonly affecting the acquisition of more abstract language components (i.e. prepositions, adjectives) and concepts. Fifty percent of ASD individuals are unable to interpret or use spoken language in other than rudimentary ways, greatly inhibiting learning at all grade levels and settings. The value of language skills and comprehension to classroom learning is well established. Research shows that visual supports (images and videos) are an effective language support tool for children with ASD. However, existing visual instruction methods use isolated language elements and do not teach critical contextual relationships (such as generalization) between the real world and language representations. Based on prior research it is logical, but untested, that a structured application of video-like scenes and corresponding discrete images could accelerate acquisition of language skills and, by extension, learning by ASD children. The proposed project, Digital Interactive Scene Program for Language in Autism (DISPL- A) Phase II will give teachers the ability, via a web-based authoring environment, to create highly interactive lessons incorporating custom-animated scenes which will help ASD students improve, in progressive fashion, generalization and language skills. The DISPL-A Phase II innovation lies in the combination of six effective strategies for teaching language coupled with a sophisticated animation engine that generates custom animated scenes "on demand". Proven, effective instructional approaches are needed as the ASD population continues to grow. Researchers will evaluate the hypothesis: DISPL-A Phase II can (a) improve the ability to generalize, leading to (b) greater language ability, including complex sentence structure comprehension and use in children with autism. Research will be conducted as a single subject experimental design (Barlow, Nock and Herson, 2009;Kearns, 2005). A multiple baseline across behaviors design with a multiple probe component will be employed. DISPL-A Phase II extends the work begun in the successful DISPL-A Phase I effort and will be integrated into MTT's commercially successful product "VizZle(R)". Based on current sales and user growth rates of VizZle(R), DISPL-A Phase II may, in the next five years, be able to help 15%-30% of the estimated 730,000 children with ASD "learn how to learn" by improving language skills and generalization abilities.
With an estimated 730,000 U.S. school-age children currently with autism, and a high growth rate over the last 20 years, effective and practical autism treatments are needed. There is currently no treatment except educational development of communication capabilities. Visually-based language tools are considered one of the most effective means of developing language skills. A web-based system easily accessible by all caregivers could provide a valuable and inexpensive means of assisting individuals with ASD.