THE USE OF ICT TO STIMULATE COMMUNICATION SKILLS IN HIGH FUNCTIONING AUTISTIC CHILDREN
 
Underwood, J. and Perlman, D., The Nottingham Trent University, UK
 
Studies have shown that the priority for parents of children within the autistic spectrum, is to improve their child's communication skills (Male, 1998; Westling, 1997). Communication is a core problem for autistic individuals, particularly in social contexts, as they lack or have an underdeveloped 'theory of mind' (TOM). Such skills are seen as a prerequisite for the development of social skills and the acceptance of the child by his or her peers. The focus of the investigation was on the effectiveness of a computer-based intervention strategy in stimulating communication skills in high functioning autistic children. The software Bubble Dialogue (O'Neill and McMahon, 1991) structures, in the sense of turn-taking, a 'conversation between two players. It employs role-playing, multiple perspective turn-taking and exploits the distinction between talk and thought, all of which underpin a 'theory of mind". Four high order autistic children and four peer mentors were identified. The ages of the target children ranged from 8 to 11 years and there were three males and one female. The mentors operated the intervention strategy, which took place once a week over a four-week period in the target child's home.. Pre and post-tests included independent measures of TOM, false belief tasks and communication skills. Post the intervention there was evidence of heightened interaction as indicated by longer dialogues, increased turn taking and a greater number of comments, which reflected a more active role by the autistic children.