New way to help kids with autism master daily living skills

Credit: Florida Atlantic University

In a new study, researchers found teens with autism can master daily living skills when their parents teach them with iPads.

The research was conducted by a team from Florida Atlantic University and collaborators.

As adults, people with autism can be highly dependent on family members or assistance programs for their day-to-day living needs.

It has been reported that following high school and up to eight years after, only 17% of adults with autism live independently.

Developing skills like cooking, getting dressed and cleaning are essential to promoting autonomy and self-determination and improving quality of life.

For some individuals with autism, completing daily tasks can be challenging because they often involve sequential steps.

Research has shown that people with ASD are strong visual learners. With technological advances, devices such as smartphones and tablets have become more portable and ultimately, accessible to caregivers.

However, few studies have examined whether parents can learn to effectively deliver evidence-based practices using portable, mainstream devices like an iPad.

In the study, the team examined whether video prompting interventions using an iPad could be effective in increasing parents’ competence and confidence to use mobile devices to interact with their adolescent children with autism.

The aim was to evaluate the effects of behavior skills training with follow-along coaching to instruct parents to deliver video prompting with an iPad to teach daily living skills to their children.

What makes this study unique is that parents of adolescents were coached and learned to use an iPad in their own homes.

While other studies have been successful in teaching parents to implement evidence-based practices, they largely targeted parents of young children.

For the study, the researchers targeted parents of adolescents with autism who would be transitioning into adulthood in the near future and who needed to cultivate independent living skills to decrease dependency on others, while improving self-esteem and confidence.

Each child, between the ages of 12 and 17 years old, had to complete a skill selected by the parents: make a bed, cook pasta or tie shoelaces.

Parents received guidance on using an iPad and implementing the intervention. They learned how to guide their children to watch the instructional video, imitate what they viewed, and then provide appropriate feedback.

Depending on the outcome, parents were asked to provide praise, correct the errors or demonstrate the step themselves if the child made two or more consecutive errors on the same task step.

The team visited families’ homes three times a week for one hour for each family’s intervention, which lasted between five to seven weeks.

Results showed that all of the children substantially improved correct and independent completion of their daily living skills, which validates that video prompting procedures are effective in ameliorating skill deficits.

While parents were successful in implementing the video prompting preparation and procedures, they were inconsistent with the consequence strategies such as social praise and error correction.

None-the-less, the children still mastered their skills and maintained the skill three weeks after the end of the intervention.

The findings show that video prompting interventions produced both immediate and lasting effects for children with autism and that parents can be powerful delivery agents to increase independence in their children.

Even with slight variations in parent delivery, the teens still mastered the intended skills.

Data from this study also revealed that none of the children required more than 17 interventions to reach mastery criteria.

In addition, this study draws attention to the importance of evidence-based practices for families of older children with autism.

The lead author of the study is Mary Louise Duffy from Florida Atlantic University.

The study is published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

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