S. Venkatesh, D. Phung, S. Greenhill, T. Duong, and B. Adams. Toby: Early intervention in autism through technology. In ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems Proceedings, Paris, France, April-May 2013. (to appear).

We describe TOBY Playpad, an early intervention program for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). TOBY teaches the teacher - the parent - during the crucial period following diagnosis, which often coincides with no access to formal therapy. We reflect on TOBY’s evolution from tabletop aid for flashcards to an iPad app covering a syllabus of 326 activities across 51 skills known to be deficient for ASD children, such imitation, joint attention and language. The design challenges unique to TOBY are the need to adapt to marked differences in each child's skills and rate of development (a trait of ASD) and teach parents unfamiliar concepts core to behavioural therapy, such as reinforcement, prompting, and fading. We report on three trials that successively decrease oversight and increase parental autonomy, and demonstrate clear evidence of learning. TOBY’s uniquely intertwined Natural Environment Tasks are found to be effective for children and popular with parents.

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