Computer and Technology Club As Social Performance Intervention for Adolescents with ASD and Their Peers

Saturday, May 13, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
J. Kaboski1, F. Mancuso1, K. Tang1, J. J. Diehl2, H. Miller1, E. R. Fisher1, J. Georgeson3, K. P. Hendrix1, A. S. Huschke3, D. Klee1, K. Nester3, K. O'Boyle1, G. Ramos1, J. Riemersma1, L. T. Simon3 and M. Stotz1, (1)University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN, (2)LOGAN Community Resources, Inc. University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN, (3)Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame, IN
Background: Although many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are integrated into general education classrooms, they lack opportunities to make friends and generalize acquired social skills outside of the classroom. Such challenges, if continued into adulthood without intervention, are likely to lead to social isolation, depression, and social anxiety (Hammond, 2012; Gillott, Furniss, & Walter, 2001) as well as obstacles to higher education and employment (Schall, 2010; Seltzer et al., 2004). There is emerging evidence that summer camps based on shared interest between children with ASD and typically developing (TD) children can be effective at increasing social skills and decreasing social anxiety in adolescents with ASD (Kaboski et al., 2015). This current study adapted the camp into an after school club, which was offered in a format that allowed adolescents with ASD to learn and practice social skills in a more natural environment over a longer period of time (i.e., once a week for 4 months) than a week-long summer camp.

Objectives:  The Computer and Technology (CAT) Club provided a series of technology-related sessions in which adolescents with ASD could practice appropriate social and collaborative skills with neurotypically developing peers in an engaging and supportive environment. The club highlighted strengths and shared interests of participants, rather than ASD or social deficits. The objective of this study was to see if the CAT Club would effectively support the social and vocational development of individuals with ASD through: (1) a decrease in social anxiety, (2) an increase in social performance, and (3) an increase in knowledge of computer game programming and robotics.

Methods:  Participants were 8 individuals with ASD and 8 TD peers, ages 12-17, who expressed a special interest in computer and technology. Parent reported ASD diagnoses were independently confirmed using ADOS-2, SCQ-L, and clinical judgment. During the semester-long club, social/vocational training was given to all participants, regardless of diagnosis, and participants were not labeled as having ASD. While programming, participants worked in pairs (1 ASD: 1 TD) on a programming project that culminated in a presentation in front of peers and family. Pre- and post-treatment data were collected on social anxiety, social skills, and participants' knowledge of computer and technology.

Results:  A series of paired samples t-tests were conducted to compare the baseline data with post-test data. ASD group demonstrated a significant improvement in measures of social skills and social anxiety (see Table 1). TD group did not experience any change in social skills or social anxiety; however, it should be noted that the TD participants came in with above average level of social skills and levels that are significantly below the clinical cut off for social anxiety. For both groups, there was a significant improvement in knowledge of computer game programming and robotics.

Conclusions:  These results provide a preliminary support for the effectiveness of an after school club at decreasing social anxiety, increasing social skills, and improving technical knowledge in adolescents with ASD.