In our current era of smartphones, tablets, and “there’s an app for that” lifestyle, it’s hard to imagine life without technology. For some of us, it’s hard to imagine going for an hour or two without some form of tech. Teaching individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder represents one area where tech has seen massive growth, to the point where some practitioners and teachers now can’t imagine life in a classroom or clinic without it. However, not everyone is familiar with evidence-based ways to use tech, and what’s known in the field as Technology Aided Instruction and Intervention (TAII).
What is Technology Aided Instruction and Intervention?
Odom et al. (2015) defines Technology-Aided Instruction and Intervention (TAII) as any instruction or intervention in which the learner’s goals are primarily achieved with technology is the central feature. Odom further defines the technology included in Technology-Aided Instruction and Intervention as “any electronic item, equipment, application, or virtual network that is used intentionally to increase/maintain, and/or improve daily living, work/productivity, and recreation/leisure capabilities.”
New technology for teaching individuals with developmental disabilities becomes available every year–including mobile devices, tablets, laptop and desktop computers, speech-generating devices, apps, and web-based programs, and software.
Why is Technology Aided Instruction and Intervention so popular?
Technology Aided Instruction and Intervention (TAII) methods can be implemented throughout the teaching process. It can be used to provide prompts to students, display scripts or visual schedules for familiar routines, video modeling, task selection, or as a tool for student self-monitoring.
One of the reasons therapists and educators flock to tech-aided interventions relates to the broad range of skills that can be taught with these methods. Recent reviews of the literature indicate TAII’s effectiveness in teaching all of the following skills:
- Academic Skills (mathematics story problems, group instruction, homework task completion, spelling performance)
- Social Communication (recognizing emotions, social interactions,
- Vocational Skills – (using a copy machine, cleaning tasks, conducting inventory)
- Independent Living Skills (using a washing machine, meal preparation, washing dishes, making a purchase)
- Motor and Adaptive Behaviors (fine motor tasks, gross motor games)
- Daily Living Routines (dressing, toileting, handwashing)
This published list of skills taught through Technology Aided Instruction and Intervention only continues to grow. As new technology becomes available, as the quality of existing technology increases, and as more curriculums become available, the list is likely to only develop.
Who can benefit?
A majority of the studies conducted using TAII involved children with developmental disabilities, including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). TAII has been shown to benefit individuals with ASD of different ages, spanning preschool children as young as 3-5 years old to young adults up to age 22.
Is it considered an evidence-based intervention?
As mentioned above, Technology Aided Instruction and Intervention methods continue to be recognized as an evidence-based intervention by the What Works Clearinghouse, a United States Department of Education database for teaching methods. It’s also listed as an evidence-based intervention with a myriad of agencies that specifically address Autism Spectrum Disorder, including the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders, The Center on Secondary Education for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (CSESA) and Autism Speaks.
5 Steps To Incorporate Technology Aided Interventions into Your Classroom
After considering the large amount of researched-backed support of TAII, you may be interested in incorporating it into your classroom or therapy teaching strategy. Before beginning, it’s essential to consider these five essential steps to implementing TAII strategies:
1. Have a clearly defined goal.
One of the first steps to ensuring that your technology-aided instruction or intervention succeeds is to have a goal clearly defined for the individual students. Know the target end behavior you intend to teach, because it may influence the technology that’s selected. Part of having a clearly defined goal also includes observing the child’s baseline performance of the target skill. Collect data to ensure that you have a clear understanding of where the learner is coming from before you begin any tech-based intervention.
For example, if the goal is to teach a child to use a speech-generating program to order from a restaurant menu, it likely doesn’t make sense to choose an application on a desktop computer. The goal helps dictate the technology choice of a program that operates on a smartphone or tablet that the child can carry to the restaurant.
2. Conduct a technology assessment with the learner and other key stakeholders.
Once you have a clearly defined goal, the next step is to conduct a technology assessment with the learner and with other stakeholders (including parents, teachers, the school or clinic staff, or technology support team at your agency). The goal of a technology assessment is to find out the learner’s skills at using technology and the available resources. Spend time with the learner and get a sense of what types of software and hardware may be the easiest to engage with. Talk with the learner’s parents and caregivers to learn about the technology already in use at home or school. Evaluate what resources are immediately available and if it may be necessary to petition insurance or make modifications to the learner’s education plans to fund new technology.
3. Teach the child how to use the technology before you begin the skills you aim to teach through technology.
Many Technology Aided Instruction and Intervention programs falter because they lack a careful task-analysis not only of the skills the intervention aims to teach, but also a task-analysis of how to use the technology itself. Too often, practitioners and parents jump to practicing the skills but miss the basics like turning the device on and off, charging the battery, and how to properly open, close, and toggle between programs. By making sure that the learner fully understands how to operate the technology first, you’re maximizing the probability that they’ll learn new skills through the technology later on.
4. Evaluate the learner’s progress with data collection.
As you begin to implement the task analysis for the selected technology, accurately monitor progress with ongoing data collection. Data collection can determine the learner’s success and help guide decision-making. It can also shed light on potential gaps in the intervention, including issues with the learner’s motivation and staff training.
5. Continue planning the next steps, so the learner continues to make progress.
One criticism of Technology Aided Instruction and Intervention is that some programs fail to make progress with the learner once the initial behaviors and goals reach targeted mastery. Others never plan past the initial objectives, to begin with.
Consider the restaurant requesting goal again. If the initial goal for the child to learn to ask for items from the child’s favorite restaurant menu was mastered, it’s up to the interventionist to generate the next goal. Perhaps it’s expanding to new menu items, or expanding to other restaurants. Once that goal is mastered, evaluation of the next target should already be in progress.
Odom, S. L., Thompson, J. L., Hedges, S., Boyd, B. A., Dykstra, J. R., Duda, M. A., … & Bord, A. (2015). Technology-aided interventions and instruction for adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 45(12), 3805-3819.
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