Exploring the benefits of a computer-based language intervention programme for non-verbal children with autism.
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An exploratory study to investigate the performance of six non-verbal children with autism on a computer touch-screen based language intervention programme with a focus related improvements in comprehension abilities. Children were trained to criterion on successive levels of a sentence production game starting with two-word combinations and progressing to a maximum of four, with animated events as feedback. Comprehension probes were administered at specific points using material direct from the programme in a unique opportunity to assess the relationship between production success and comprehension in the same terms. The touchscreen game (the ‘Eventaurs’) designed by Dr Maggie McGonigle, presents nouns and verbs as simple pictograms on the screen. When touched in the correct order (e.g. monkey flies), the child is rewarded by an animation depicting the event. The comprehension tests used ‘stills’ from the animations. Six male non-verbal children with autism aged 8-16, recruited from previous research were given the training and comprehension testing over a total of 6 sessions. A case-by-case analysis allowed the creation of individual profiles of behaviour. As expected, large differences in performance were observed; one child achieving success on four word productions; others failing on two. The types of errors made varied across participants. Comprehension had a variable relationship with production. The Eventaurs has the potential to elicit sentence-like productions in at least some non-verbal children. Error and comprehension analyses suggest a variety of reasons for problems in underlying syntactic control that would benefit from further exploration at the level of the individual child and illustrate the need for individual tailoring in language intervention. Results are discussed in the context of possible subtypes most suited to the intervention programme.