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S. Venkatesh, D. Phung, S. Greenhill, T.Duong, and B. Adams. TOBY Playpad: Early Intervention in Autism through Technology. Technical Report, TR-PRaDA-01-12, 2012.
We describe TOBY Playpad, an early intervention program for children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). TOBY teaches the teacher and the parent during the crucial period following diagnosis, which often coincides with no access to formal therapy. We reflect on the development of TOBY from its inception as a table-top aid to the onerous preparation and recording of flash-card activities to its culmination as an iPad application that delivers an adaptive syllabus of 326 activities across 51 key skills known to be deficient for ASD children, such as imitation, joint attention and language. TOBY's development was driven by autism and machine learning experts, and is unique in the way it integrates on-iPad activities with Natural Environment Tasks (NET). 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 NET tasks are found to be effective for children and popular with parents.
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