Teach Town

  • Education Software and Solutions for Customized Learning

    Christina Whalen, PhD, BCBA-D

    Licensed Clinical Psychologist for the

    Center for Learning and Autism Support Services, Inc (CLASS)

                The use of technology is becoming increasingly common for teaching skills to children with autism.  The advantages of technology-based interventions is that they are often highly motivating for children and offer convenience, affordability, and effectiveness compared to more traditional 1:1 interventions.  A popular program, TeachTown: Basics, offers hundreds of computer lessons to teach language, academic, and social skills in a fun world of characters and games, using evidence-based teaching practices from Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).  The curriculum was developed and reviewed by experts in ABA, psychology, special education, and speech-language pathology.  In addition to the computer lessons, the program also includes generalization activities for parents to do with their children in the natural environment.  It is important that the computer and generalization lessons be used together for the best outcome.

    Developmentally Appropriate Design

                For any program to be effective, it is important that it matches the child’s developmental level and not just their chronological age.  TeachTown: Basics was designed to teach skills to children in the developmental range of 2-7 years.  This means that older children can use the program if their language and cognitive skills are in this developmental range.

    Individualization

                Another critical component of a successful intervention is individualization of treatment.  Determining which skills need to be taught to a particular child can be difficult, particularly with children that do not seem to be motivated to learn.  TeachTown: Basics offers individualization within the computer program to suit the needs of each child without requiring external expertise.  In fact, many ABA and education experts that use the program rely on the program to guide their own decisions for planning what skills to teach a child.  The computer does this by asking the parent, teacher, or therapist a series of questions about the child’s skills prior to starting the computer intervention.  The computer then places the child at a particular rank for each learning domain.  There are 6 learning domains: Language Development, Language Arts, Cognitive, Math, Adaptive, and Social Skills.  Once a child has a rank in each domain, the computer will then adjust the child’s rank based on their performance within each domain.

    Tracking and Data Collection

                Accurate measurement of outcome is possible only through proper data collection and tracking.  Collecting enormous amounts of data and analyzing it is the most painful part for any teacher, therapist, or parent attempting to measure their child’s success and to make data-based decisions about what aspects of the intervention are working or not working.  Computers make this process completely painless when done effectively.  TeachTown: Basics automatically tracks each child’s progress including accuracy, precision, response time, reward choices, etc. This sophisticated system makes TeachTown: Basics desirable to many schools, clinics, and families.

    Flexibility

                One of the benefits of this system is that it also offers flexibility to use it anywhere so that a child can use it at home and go to school and pick up right where they left off at home.  This allows for continuity of treatment across settings, which has been shown in many studies to be important but is rarely implemented in a child’s programming due to difficulties with communication between treatment settings.

    Generalization

                In the TeachTown: Basics program, generalization was carefully planned for not only the generalization activities off of the computer, but within the computer program as well.  Unlike traditional 1:1 interventions, the computer has the ability to present many examples for each concept taught.  For example, if you want your child to learn how to identify emotions, TeachTown: Basics presents many examples using photographs, drawings, and animations to teach each emotion.  In addition, the pre and post tests for each lesson use a different set of images and animations to ensure that the child learned the concept rather than just memorizing the picture.

    Parent Friendly Approach

                Parents often struggle with implementing intervention techniques at home that are recommended to them by schools and therapists.  The reason for this is that unlike the professionals who work with children during their working hours, the parent’s job has no start or stop time.  The parents jobs are many and are not limited to just implementing therapy with their child.  They must also care for their child (and often other children), spouse, home, pets, etc.  Their job also requires that they spend time bonding and loving their children.  This complex relationship makes sitting down and doing “therapy” difficult, if not impossible.

                TeachTown: Basics is a program that the parents can do with their children without any real effort on their part.  Studies with this program have shown that children and adults tend to demonstrate more positive affect with each other using TeachTown: Basics then when engaged in structured teaching activities or play activities.  In addition, these studies also showed that children used more spontaneous and appropriate language while using the computer program with an adult present.  This program can also be used by a child independently, allowing the parent some time to attend to other household tasks.  It is best used with a balance between independent and shared learning.

    Dr. Christina Whalen is a licensed psychologist in the state of California and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst specializing in autism and related disorders. She works as a clinical psychologist at the Center for Learning and Autism Support Services, and is a Consulting Assistant Professor at Stanford School of Medicine. Dr. Whalen co-founded TeachTown in 2003. She was the Founder and Chief Science Officer at the University of Washington Autism Center, when she came up with the idea for creating customized software solutions to meet the learning needs of children with autism. For more information visit www.teachtown.com or call at 650-2986-4396 ext 151.

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