The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders recently published a study examining the effectiveness of a Portable Digital Assistant (PDA) as an aid device for adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. I was surprised to read that only a couple of studies have been conducted examining the potential utility of PDAs in autism. The portability of PDAs and the ability of these devices to provide visual and auditory commands (such as video prompts), should make these devices ideal tools in the implementations of behavioral strategies that involve the presentation of prompts.
In order to evaluate the effectiveness of PDAs in autism, the authors taught 3 adolescents with ASD diagnoses to use the PDA to provide self-prompts while completing 3 cooking recipes (hamburger helper, individual sized pizza, and a ham & swiss sandwich). The 3 adolescents were selected because they met a specific inclusion criteria, which included having good fine motor skills (allowing them to manipulate the PDA), having good visual and auditory acuity, and having the cognitive skills necessary to recognize picture prompts. The adolescents were provided with a Cyrano Communication device programmed to provide picture, voice, and video prompts for each step of the cooking process.
The experiment used a multiple probe design that included the following steps for each recipe:
- Pre-training to learn how to use the PDA
- Cooking recipe without the PDA
- Cooking recipe with PDA
The following figure is the results from one of the participants. Notice how the percent correct reached 100 when the PDA was used.
The authors concluded that the devices resulted in a noticeable improvement in performance for all three participants. The results suggest that PDAs may be very effective in helping persons with ASDs successfully complete tasks, such as those required at educational and/or work setting. However, this study was conducted with 3 individuals only. More research with much larger sample sizes is necessary to help us better understand if, and in what conditions, these devices may be effective.
The reference: Mechling, L., Gast, D., & Seid, N. (2009). Using a Personal Digital Assistant to Increase Independent Task Completion by Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders DOI: 10.1007/s10803-009-0761-0
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