Coaching Parents on Effective Communicative Access for Individuals with Autism through the Use of Ipads

Thursday, May 11, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
F. T. Orsati, J. P. Hussman, A. Smith and C. L. Woodfield, Hussman Institute for Autism, Catonsville, MD

Recent literature reports that 25% to 30% of individuals with autism do not have a reliable way to verbally communicate. The incorporation of augmentative and alternative communication can be an effective tool for supporting communication and social relationships. Providing parents with adequate coaching for the use of the iPad as a communication tool is promising towards broad-based implementation and long-term outcomes.


The goal of this study was to provide access to alternative means of communication, by investigating the effects of partner coaching using the iPad with a symbol based system for individuals with autism who are minimally verbal, and identifying the effects of these strategies on the individuals’ communication skills.


This study employed a single-case design to examine coaching parents of individuals with autism to use an iPad for communication with their child. The researcher provided weekly coaching sessions that lasted approximately 40 minutes. Parents were systematically taught elements that comprised a “circle of communication,” with each element taught sequentially and introduced as the previous element was mastered. These elements and strategies included: following and expanding on an activity or topic of the individual’s choice; taking turns and responding to bids of interactions and shared engagement; providing communicative structure to engage the individual and encourage participant’s construction of their own response; modeling language targets; offering structured prompts; and providing contingent reinforcement. This research included 6 parent-child pairs: 6 individuals with autism and 6 parent coaches. All individuals had their clinical autism diagnosis confirmed with the Child Autism Rating Scale. The children’s ages ranged from 11 to 14 years old, the parents ages ranged from 40 to 48 years of age, and all parents had bachelor’s degree. This was a diverse group of participants including two White Americans, two Asian Americans, one African American, one Mixed race (Asian and Latino).


Preliminary results after 10 to 12 intervention indicate that parents were able to learn to follow their child’s lead in their choices of activities. Parents then learned to provoke thought and interaction by asking opinion questions or making comments that require a comment in return, while avoiding “quizzing questions.” Parents also learned to model use of target words on the device, particularly during interactions, play time or games. Parents also increased their use of different levels of prompting for responses including verbal and gestural prompts. Parents learned to provide immediate social and natural reinforcement when the child attempted and/or succeeded in producing the word or sentence targets. All participants also demonstrated an increased their use of communication targets on the iPad as well as less dependence on their parents’ prompts.


Full results will be presented in the poster. To-date, parents have benefitted from structured coaching on how to promote language use during interactions and activities that are motivating for their children. The individuals with autism showed prolonged engagement and use of the iPad for communication during these structured interactions. Parents also report increased use of the device for communication at home.