Blum-Dimaya, a., Reeve, S.A., Reeve, K.F. & Hoch, H. (2010).
Teaching children with autism to play a video game using activity schedules and game-embedded simultaneous video modeling. Education & Treatment of Children,
The topic of this study was to identify age- and skill-appropriate activities for children with autism using a video game platform and the popular video game, "Guitar Hero II" to improve social skills and quality of life.
The authors emphasize that age-appropriate skills are an important for children with developmental disabilities such as autism because these skills satisfy habilitative requirements that have been shown to improve quality of life. Therefore, children with autism who are capable of playing games with their peers enjoy additional chances to interact and acquire the social skills they need as well as opportunities to improve their hand-eye coordination and other motor skills. Despite the proven efficacy of teaching age-appropriate skills to autistic children there remains a dearth of timely and relevant studies in this area, particularly those that draw on recent innovations in gaming technologies that make these tools especially useful for young learners with developmental disabilities.
Procedures: The researchers employed a multiple-probe design in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the training package across all study participants. The study was conducted in a self-contained classroom in a private school for autistic children. During each experimental session, the participant together with four or five classmates and four or five teachers were present and the principal researcher (a graduate student and classroom instructor for children with autism) conducted all of the sessions.
Following the completion of scheduling daily activities that included the Guitar Hero II sessions, the researchers collected data using paper-and-pencil methods concerning schedule completion and on-task behavior of each participant. The data concerning the participant's guitar-playing performance was collected using the data stored in the game that tracks each player's accuracy and timing. To ensure the uniformity of the playing experience, the researchers restricted the song choices for the training sessions to the following:
1. "You Really Got Me" by Van Halen,
2. "Mother" by Danzig,
3. "Girlfriend" by Matthew Sweet, and
4. "Strutter" by Kiss.
Each song contained between 248 and 301 musical notes and ranged from 5 minutes 7 seconds to 7 minutes 12 seconds in duration. To assess generalization of the game-playing experience to new applications, one song was eliminated from the song choices during the experiment and was used as a probe mechanism that differed for all participants. The researchers also used snacks as positive reinforcers.
Results: All of the participants successfully learned to play Guitar Hero II and their playing skills were capable of being generalized to a song and a setting that were not used during the training sessions.
Conclusions: The researchers concluded that these encouraging results indicate that similar training methods can be used to teach children with autism comparable video gaming and leisure skills that will serve as a basis for promoting social interactions with their peers and others.
Journal Article No. 2: Meadan, H., Halle, J.W. & Ebata, A.T. (2010). Families with children who have autism spectrum disorders: Stress and support. Exceptional Children, 77(1), 7-9.
The topic of this literature review was to identify specific stressors and supports for families with children suffering from autism spectrum disorders.
Rationale: Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is an umbrella term that includes a broad array of developmental disorders that generally manifest before age 3 years. The American Psychiatric Association's 4th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders characterizes ASD as existing within a broader grouping of pervasive developmental disorders (PDD). According the DSM-IV-TR, there are five subtypes of PDD as follows: (a) autistic disorder, (b) Asperger's syndrome (AS), (c) childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD), (d) Rett syndrome, and (e) pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). The defining characteristics of ASD are as follows: (a) impairments in social interactions, (b) impairments in verbal and nonverbal communication, and (c) restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior. At present, ASD affects about .09% but this prevalence is increasing at an approximate rate of 10% to 17% annually, and these trends have generated increased attention from clinicians and social workers concerning the effect of autism on families. Moreover, although the research to date has confirmed an adverse effect on families, there remains a need to elucidate individual family experiences.
Procedures: The authors used an analysis of archived articles related to stress, coping, and support in families that have a member with ASD through ancestral and electronic searches to develop a critical literature review that was comprised of studies (a) published during the period 2000 to 2007; (b) published in a juried journal in the English language; (c) involved a data-based study; (d) included parents and/or siblings of individuals with ASD as the focal participants; and (e) focused on stress, coping, or support of the family members. The authors report that they used various permutations of key words for their search of the reliable online research databases, ERIC and PsycINFO. The search terms used included autism, autism spectrum disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger syndrome, family, mother, father, siblings, brother, sister, stress, coping, support, and adjustment; however, Rett syndrome was excluded from the searches based on its documented genetic connection and the rarity of its incidence. All told, the authors identified 57 peer-reviewed journal articles that satisfied all of the inclusion criteria for their study.
These results were grouped into five main categories: (a) stress in the marital subsystem, (b) stress in the parental subsystem, (c) stress in the sibling subsystem, and (d) bidirectional relationships between subsystems. Families managed stressors by focusing on (e) coping strategies employed by families, and (f) informal and formal sources of support employed by families. The authors also report that in those cases where isolated studies of interest regarding specific family subsystems were identified, these were explicitly indicated.
Results: Not surprisingly, the authors found that the effect of having a child with ASD in the family had a significant effect on parents and siblings alike, but that these effects were highly individualized and that across-the-board generalizations are inappropriate. In many cases, the effects adversely affect the quality of life for family members and children with ASD, but the precise manner of this operation remains unclear making the need for additional research in this area an important and timely enterprise.
Conclusions: The authors summarize that improved functioning is possible for families with ASD children through parent education and training programs that provide enhanced feelings of control and support. In sum, the authors conclude that, "Parents of children with autism who participate in parent training experience improvement in mental health and well-being, reduced stress, and more time for leisure activities" (p. 9).
Journal Article No. 3: Berg, R. (2009). Autism -- An environmental health issue after all?
Journal of Environmental Health, 71(10), 14-15.
The topic of the penultimate study was the need to reevaluate current thinking about the etiology of autism. The author cites the recent decision by a federal "vaccine" court that held the mumps, measles, and rubella (MMR) was not responsible for the increased incidence of autism experienced in the United States in recent years to support her assertion that the debate over the potential environmental aspects of autism continue to remain understudied.
Rationale: Despite a lack of scientific evidence, rumors concerning the potential for the MMR vaccine to cause autism have made some parents highly reluctant to have their children immunized.
Procedures: The author draws on empirical observations and other first-hand experiences of two researchers who are actively involved in the study of the environmental aspects of autism to provide the background of the ongoing controversy concerning the MMR vaccine as well as how the medical community has relied on inadequate models in their effort to understand autism and its causes. The author also includes several online resources for further information concerning autism.
Results: The results of this study highlighted the environmental aspects of autism, including some that are not routinely considered "environmental" such as exposure to various changes in the interuterine environment during gestation. Although the nature vs. nurture debate continues with respect to the precise causes of autism, Berg makes it clear that there remains a need for additional research in this area to determine the effects of post-natal environmental conditions on the incidence of autism. In fact, the researchers who were interviewed for this article stressed that some yet-undermined combination of environmental factors (including rainfall and proximity to freeways) may contribute to the onset of autism and further exacerbate its development in ways that remain unknown. According to Berg, what is known is that, "A wide range of environmental exposures have been proposed as triggers or exacerbators of ASDs: heavy metals (including lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic); flame retardants; insecticides; phthalates used in vinyl and cosmetics; household cleaning products that could affect the immune system, such as antibacterial soaps; and in utero exposure to thalidomide, valproic acid, and bacterial or viral infections" (p. 14). One of the two researchers also cited…