Autism In The Classroom Computer-Aided Instruction Page

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Autism In The Classroom Computer-Aided Instruction Page |

Autism In The Classroom

Computer-Aided Instruction


Computer-aided instruction (CAI) is focused on the use of computers to teach academic skills as well as to promote communication and language development skills. In the academic domain, the evidence-based research studies focused on vocabulary and grammar. Within the communication domain, studies targeted communicative functions and initiations. CAI meets evidence-based practice criteria within the elementary and middle/high school age groups. CAI has been used successfully in school settings and with all age groups.

What is Computer-Aided Instruction (CAI)?

According to Goldsmith and Leblanc (2004), computers have been used to teach a variety of skills and can help learners:

  • recognize and predict emotions,

  • enhance problem solving,

  • improve vocabulary,

  • advance generative spelling,

  • enhance vocal imitation,

  • increase play-related statements, and

  • improve reading and communication skills.

Within the evidence base for CAI, this practice can be used to successfully teach communication skills and enhance academic learning. Specifically, CAI is an effective means for teaching vocabulary and grammar (Massaro & Bosseler, 2006; Hetzroni & Tannous, 2004; Bosseler & Massaro, 2003; Moore & Calvert, 2000). It also has been demonstrated to be an effective means for teaching communicative functions and related communication skills to learners with ASD (Hetzroni & Tannous, 2004). Furthermore, CAI can be used to teach persons with ASD to recognize and predict emotions in others (Silver & Oakes, 2001). Due to ever-changing computer technology and the rapid introduction of computer software into the educational market, this module will focus only on the salient aspects of CAI and how to choose computer software that has been shown to be effective with learners with ASD. This module will not address computer hardware configurations because the available software determines the type of computer and operating system to be used. Also, software changes from time to time. Module readers are encouraged to seek the input of technology support staff when determining computing needs for CAI.

Why Use CAI?

There are a number of reasons why CAI can be used with learners with ASD. First, characteristics of learners with ASD often include strengths in visual processing and preferences for visual learning (Mesibov, Shea, & Schopler, 2005; Quill, 1997; Grandin, 1995; Schuler, 1995). Both of these characteristics are skills that are necessary for effective use of CAI. Many learners with ASD have difficulty interacting with others. For example, they have considerable difficulty with social reciprocity and interactions (American Psychiatric Association, 2000; National Research Council, 2001). Because of these characteristics as well as the increasing prevalence of computers both in and out of the classroom and the high cost of individualized instruction, computers are being used for some aspects of instructional time for learners with ASD. Aspects of CAI that make it desirable include multi-sensory approaches (i.e., those that use multiple senses such as visual, auditory, and tactile) structured environments (i.e., settings that have a clear purpose and are well defined either visually or functionally), interactive functions, and individualization and independence of use (Hetzroni & Tannous, 2004). Although CAI is most often used to teach specific academic and communication skills, some studies have found it to be effective in increasing motivation and attention as well (Hetzroni & Tannous, 2004; Silver & Oakes, 2001; Moore & Calvert, 2000).

Who Can Use CAI, Where Can It Be Used, and What Are the Challenges?

CAI can be used across a range of environments by professionals and non-professionals, including teachers, therapists, paraprofessional educators, parents, siblings, and other family members. Because of the overwhelming number of computer hardware and software options, many factors must be taken into account when deciding to use CAI. They include:

  • identifying the target of instruction (i.e., the skill or behavior being taught),

  • becoming familiar with the variety of software options available,

  • being technologically savvy enough to identify whether or not the software will work on available computers and operating systems,

  • making oneself familiar with the software chosen and the computer on which it will operate prior to beginning instruction,

  • identifying available technology support,

  • understanding how to introduce learners and those who support them to the specific CAI chosen,

  • knowing how to prompt successfully and fade prompting as necessary to promote independent interactions between the learner and the CAI, and

  • collecting and monitoring data regarding learners' use of the CAI and their progress toward target skills and related goals.

This module provides guidelines for promoting successful use of CAI with learners with ASD by focusing on these factors.

With What Ages is CAI Most Effective?

The evidence base for CAI includes studies conducted with learners ranging from 3 to 18 years of age. Within the domain of communication skills, the research has shown success with early childhood as well as middle and high school students. For the area of academics and cognition, learners in all three age categories (early childhood, elementary, and secondary) were successfully taught a variety of skills using CAI. In short, depending on the target skill and the needs/preferences of the learner, CAI may be used with nearly any age.

Are Any Assessments Needed Before Implementing CAI?

If you are considering implementing CAI with learners with ASD, some assessments have likely already been completed. These may include formal tests of intelligence and adaptive functioning including social interactions and communication skills. It is important to supplement information derived from these formal measures with informal assessments such as observation, record review, and interviews with learners and/or those individuals who support them (e.g., teacher, parent, paraprofessional). For some learners, it will be important to work with an occupational therapist to determine if learners have the manual dexterity and fine motor skills to utilize a traditional computer keyboard and/or mouse, or if an alternative device will be needed.

Informal assessments also should include some trials with a variety of CAI software options and hardware configurations. If you are in a school setting, ask teachers and other staff what software they use and how their students have responded to it. It is helpful to ask the parents of the learner what software programs they have found useful at home. It is possible, even likely, that software that is appealing to typically developing learners will be enjoyed by learners with ASD. Other options for locating CAI software include stores that sell computer software, educational product companies, and internet stores. In the Citation and References section at the end of this module, a brief sampling of some of these sources is provided. Please note that we are not endorsing them. They are provided as a starting point as you integrate CAI into your educational routines.

Step-by-Step Instructions

The following steps for implementation are actually guidelines for the general use of computer software for instructional purposes. Thus, the steps used with purchased software will vary according to the instructions that accompany them. The general guidelines for implementing CAI are described in the following section.

Step 1. Identifying the Target Instruction


  • refer to a learner's IEP or IFSP to identify the learner's goals.

  • discuss goals with IEP/IFSP team members, family, and learner.

  • select a goal to be the target of instruction and ensure that the behavior is observable and measurable.

The first step in implementing CAI is to identify the skills or behaviors that you want to teach via the computer. The learner's Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) or Individualized Education Program (IEP) will specify priorities and specific goals. From a review of the listed goals, and discussion with learners, their families, and other team members, a specific skill (e.g., improved spelling, increased vocabulary) or behaviors (e.g., recognizing the emotions of other people during conversations) should be identified as the target of instruction. It is important to ensure that the behavior or skill is observable and measurable. For example, "Brendon will increase his reading vocabulary by 50% across the school year, as measured by curriculum based assessments."

Step 2. Collecting Baseline Data

Practitioners/adults collect baseline data appropriate for the targeted skill.

Once the specific skill has been identified and operationalized, baseline data are gathered on the learner's use of the skill. Data may be gathered by multiple methods, depending on the skill or behavior.

For example, if the target skill is to improve spelling, data may be gathered from permanent products such as spelling tests, writing samples, and other written work. Another example of a target skill could be to increase vocabulary. Again, data may be gathered from permanent products such as writing samples or a vocabulary test that measures words in the learner's vocabulary compared to a group sample and normed by age or grade. For target social skills, such as recognizing and correctly interpreting the facial expressions of others, pre- and post-tests may be used that show pictures of people with a variety of facial expressions while asking learners to identify simple emotions such as happy, sad, angry, or puzzled.

Practitioners/adults collect data on a minimum of three occasions to establish an accurate baseline for the targeted skill.

Next, practitioners/adults collect an adequate amount of data on the target skill to establish an accurate baseline. A good rule of thumb for baseline data is to collect it on a minimum of three occasions to secure a measure of the target skill prior to instruction. If the data do not appear to be stable (i.e., unchanging), consider collecting additional data until you have a typical estimate of the learner's abilities. If the learner's performance of the target skill is erratic, it may take more baseline data points to get a feel for how they engage in the skill over time. The importance of collecting baseline data cannot be over-emphasized. Progress can be accurately measured only if the starting point is well defined.

Many computer programs have built in data collection features that track learners' progress. For example, most computer programs that teach and promote keyboarding skills automatically track the user's progress on words per minutes and errors made. This is an excellent additional source of information, but should not be relied upon for data collection. Nearly all skills or behaviors that might be taught by computer are generalizable to natural settings. Therefore, it is important to collect data using the measures that occur in natural environments. For example, while a computer program may help learners increase vocabulary, the important outcome is how learners use that vocabulary in written and oral communication tasks. Practitioners may collect data on the learner's use of new vocabulary in classes and other settings across the school day. Written vocabulary use may be measured via permanent products such as writing samples or vocabulary tests. Oral vocabulary may be measured by verbal reports and observation. Curriculum-based assessments may also be used to assess a learner's use of a learned skill outside of the computer program in which the learner is learning and practicing the skill.

Step 3. Identifying Technology Support


  • identify technology support personnel in the school/program building.

  • identify technology support personnel within the district.

  • review district policies concerning the use of computer technology.

Before proceeding with the purchase of computer software, identify and contact persons in your building who provide computer support. These individuals may be official technology support persons or others who have different titles, but are experts on all things related to computers. Include them in planning by sharing information such as your goals for the use of computers and software. The information these individuals have is invaluable, and establishing a working relationship with them is a great investment. In addition to identifying the persons who provide technology support in your building, it is wise to know who supports computer use at the district level. Familiarize yourself with any school policies concerning the use of computer technology.

Step 4. Identifying Available Computers for Use


  • gather information about general computer specifications.

  • check schedules for computer availability for classroom, in media centers, or libraries.

  • develop a schedule for the learner's use of available computers and share with others.

Prior to investing time, money, and effort in acquiring software that addresses the target of instruction, identify and schedule times when learners can use computers within the school/program. The following information may be helpful during this task:

  • What type of computer (Mac or PC) is available?

  • What type of operating system is on the computer (e.g., Windows XP or Vista for PCs, OS X Leopard v 10.5 or later for Macs)?

  • Where is the computer located (e.g., classroom, library, lab)?

  • What types of drives does the computer have (e.g., CD, DVD, CD/DVD combination, floppy, ISB Port)?

  • Does the computer have internet access?

  • Is the computer on a network (i.e., linked to other computers on the same server)?

  • Does the computer have access to a printer and is it connected?

  • Are the computer's keyboard and mouse in good working order?

  • Does the computer have special adaptations (e.g., voice activated, large print monitor for individuals with visual impairments)?

Once you have gathered information about available computers, check classroom and school-wide calendars to identify times that computers may be used by the learners. Create a schedule for the learner's use of available computers and share this information with appropriate staff.

Step 5. Identify Appropriate Software


  • check available software on existing accessible computers.

  • ask school/program staff about their use of software.

  • ask learners and their families about preferred software.

  • inquire about appropriate software from vendors and retail stores, if necessary.

  • review preview options and return policies prior to purchase.

CAI may be selected as an evidence-based instructional strategy because the learner already has an interest in computers or because of the availability of software to teach the target skill or behavior. If you are not aware of available software, the following suggestions might help:

  • Check software already installed on accessible computers.

  • Ask teachers and other staff (e.g., computer lab monitors, library staff) what software they have or are familiar with and like.

  • Ask learners, peers, and families what software they have or are familiar with and like.

  • Visit a computer store that carries software and talk with sales people about popular titles for the age of learners with whom you will be working. Ask for a demonstration of software.

  • Conduct an internet search using the following keywords: computers, software, the age of learner, autism or ASD, and the specific skill being targeted. You may also browse popular internet stores that sell books and software. Many sites have search engines that will allow you to browse by age, skill set, and so forth.

  • Ask about software preview options and return policies before ordering software. It can get expensive, not to mention discouraging, to purchase software, find out that it is not exactly what is needed, and then learn that it cannot be returned.

Step 6. Selecting and Installing Software After you have identified software options, choose the actual software to be purchased for use in CAI.

Practitioners/adults select software that:

◦explicitly teaches the target skill or behavior;

◦is age appropriate (for example, a Sesame Street program is appropriate for early childhood and early elementary learners, but not for later elementary, middle, or high school age learners);

◦is compatible with the computer identified in Step 4; and

◦is user-friendly, meaning that it has a clear progression of steps, easy to follow on-screen guides or menus, and readily identified help access (e.g., a button on every page that will take the learner back to the main menu).

Practitioners/adults install software and make it accessible for learners.

When you have chosen a program and acquired it, be sure to read through installation procedures and get assistance from your technology support persons, if needed. Install the software, so that it is easily accessible for learners by placing the program icon on the computer desktop or in a folder that is readily identified. Go through all of the installation steps and, if required, restart your computer before moving on to the software tutorial.

Step 7. Learning the Software


  • try out the program before introducing it to the learner.

  • select a starting point that is a good match with the learner's interests and abilities.

If the program comes with a tutorial, proceed through it before trying to use the software or introducing the learner or others to the program. Once you have completed the tutorial, spend some time getting acquainted with the program by moving through various activities, games, or levels and looking for places that the learner may have difficulties. If the software offers a variety of levels and activities, take this opportunity to select one or two that you feel will be a good match to the interests and abilities of the learner. As you begin to feel comfortable with the program, you can move ahead to task analysis.

Step 8. Completing a Task Analysis

Practitioners/adults complete an analysis of the steps for accessing the software within CAI, and provide it to the learner.

Breaking down the task, or task analysis, is an important step in CAI, because it helps learners use computers more independently. This task analysis is specific to how one launches and uses the computer software that is installed and should not be confused with a task analysis of the target skill. A task analysis for running and launching the computer software might include the following steps:

  • Sit at computer.

  • Turn on computer (if it isn't already on).

  • Open CD drive.

  • Insert selected software.

  • Close CD drive.

  • Launch program via icon that pops up once CD loads.

  • Use software for desired length of time.

  • Exit program.

  • Remove CD from drive.

  • Place CD in case and put away.

  • Close CD drive.

  • Shut down computer.

Practitioners/adults create a troubleshooting guide for the computer software and provide it to the learner.

Learners may find it helpful to have a specific troubleshooting guide created for the particular software. An example of this might include:

  • If the software does not open when the CD is inserted in the drive, try double-clicking on the (CD designated) drive. Once this opens, double click on the program launch icon.

  • If you reach a level that is too difficult and want to go back, press the ESC key on the computer keyboard. This key will take you back to the main menu of the software.

  • If the software freezes during play, wait 30 seconds and try again. If it still does not work, try pressing the ESC key. If it still does not work, ask an adult to assist you.

An example for a younger learner, a learner who does not read, or a learner who is not technically oriented may include shorter phrases or key words, icons with words, or just icons to represent the steps for troubleshooting. Clearly, this step must be individualized based on the abilities and preferences of the learner using CAI.

Step 9. Teaching the Software to Others


  • introduce the software to those who work with the learner at school and at home.

  • link the use of the software to target skills.

  • provide support persons with the task analysis for computer use.

  • allow support persons time to try out the program and ask questions.

At this point, it is appropriate to introduce the software to those who work with and support the learner. This may include other teachers, classroom assistants, peers, and family members. Explain how the program addresses or teaches target skills. Provide them with an overview of the task analysis and of the computer program. Then allow them time to explore with the software program and ask questions before they work with the learner.

Step 10. Teaching the Learner

Practitioners/adults provide opportunities for learners to practice basic computer skills.

This step may be completed at any time prior to introduction of the software and may not be necessary for all learners. If the learner has limited experience with computers or is very young, you will need to teach some basic computer skills. These may include:

  • sitting at the computer;

  • wearing headphones (often a necessity in public settings where multiple types of instruction occur simultaneously);

  • looking at, listening to, and responding to the computer screen;

  • using a mouse and/or keyboard (and possibly other specialized equipment, such as a touch pad or a touch screen);

  • taking turns, if the computer software has multi-user options; or

  • treating the computer equipment with care (e.g., not banging or throwing the mouse, not hitting the keyboard or screen when frustrated, knowing how to turn the computer off and on, and how to ask for help if difficulties ensue).

If learners are already expert computer users, you may skip this step entirely. If they have had some experience with computers, these skills may be reviewed as you teach the task analysis and begin working with the new software. If learners have not had much experience with computers, you may choose to teach these skills with a simple game or program that is already installed and has a clear cause/effect action. For example, a game designed for preschool and early elementary learners who have not used a mouse before plays happy music and shows bubbles floating across the screen. Learners merely have to move the mouse over the bubbles to make them pop. Learners can move to the next level once this motion is learned, where a click of the left mouse button pops the bubbles.

If necessary, practitioners/adults identify additional reinforcers to pair with computer use to promote learner engagement and to teach basic computer skills.

An additional task that may be useful with some learners (especially those who have little or no experience with computers) is to identify reinforcers that can be paired with the computer software to motivate them to engage in the program long enough to experience success.

Step 11. Introducing Learner to Software


  • explain to the learner how the program will help them learn and practice target skills.

  • model the task analysis for accessing the program.

  • demonstrate basic program functions, if necessary.

  • give the learner time to try the program while providing feedback and assistance.

Having completed all of the prerequisite steps, now it is time to actually begin working with learners and the new computer software program. Talk with learners about the target skills or behaviors that the software will help them to learn and practice. Sit with them at the computer while you model the task analysis for accessing and starting the program. Once the program has launched, demonstrate the basic functions of the program. You may want to give some learners access to the program right away and just sit with them while they initially use it. For other learners with less computer experience, you may have them observe you using the program and then sit with and assist them as they move through various levels of the program. Regardless of learners' abilities, it will be important to have someone who has had experience with the program to be immediately available to answer questions or provide assistance.

Step 12. Multiple Opportunities to Practice


  • explain to the learner how the program will help them learn and practice target skills.

  • model the task analysis for accessing the program.

  • demonstrate basic program functions, if necessary.

  • give the learner time to try the program while providing feedback and assistance.

Having completed all of the prerequisite steps, now it is time to actually begin working with learners and the new computer software program. Talk with learners about the target skills or behaviors that the software will help them to learn and practice. Sit with them at the computer while you model the task analysis for accessing and starting the program. Once the program has launched, demonstrate the basic functions of the program. You may want to give some learners access to the program right away and just sit with them while they initially use it. For other learners with less computer experience, you may have them observe you using the program and then sit with and assist them as they move through various levels of the program. Regardless of learners' abilities, it will be important to have someone who has had experience with the program to be immediately available to answer questions or provide assistance.

Step 13. Providing Ongoing Support

Practitioners/adults provide learners with access to staff persons for assistance and to answer questions during CAI time.

As learners become more independent with the use of the computer and the specific software program, you may find that they do not need on-going supervision or assistance. If that is the case, celebrate! That is a wonderful thing. Regardless of how adept learners are in accessing and engaging in CAI, it will be important that they know how to seek assistance from a staff member or peer should they need help at any point.

Step 14. Collecting Data


  • collect data on the target skill in a format similar to baseline data collection.

  • use data to make instructional decisions regarding the target skill or behavior.

Be sure to collect data on the progress of the target skill during the use of CAI is as the initial collection of baseline data is important. As mentioned in Step 2, you may find that the program has a data collection mechanism. These data may prove useful for providing learners with immediate feedback as they use the software and may also be useful information to share with learners' families and others on their team. Again, do not rely on these data alone for monitoring learner progress toward goals. Using the same procedures that were used to collect data at baseline, continue to collect data regularly on how the learner uses and generalizes the target skill being taught or supported via CAI. That is, in addition to any information gathered by the computer program, also assess the learner's use of the target skill or behavior in school and other environments.

Next Steps

Once you have successfully implemented CAI with a learner in your setting, you will likely find that other learners (and perhaps adults in the setting as well) will be interested in joining in. For learners who are successful with CAI, additional opportunities for its use will likely emerge. Next steps may include using CAI with small groups of learners, using CAI in the context of Peer-Mediated Instruction and Interventions, or finding new topics of interest or skill sets with which to use CAI. Some practitioners report that even when learners reach mastery level with some CAI programs, they continue to enjoy using the program. In these situations, learners can continue to use CAI to promote the use of learned skills or behaviors.

Case Study Examples

Three case study examples are provided to demonstrate how computer-aided instruction might be used. Jessie is a 4-year-old in an inclusive kindergarten program in his neighborhood school. He is working on readiness skills, and the CAI is designed to help him increase his ability to "sit" for longer periods of time and also to teach "mouse" skills. Brady is an 11-year-old in a rural setting. The CAI goal for Brady is to increase receptive and expressive language. Finally, Lorna is a 14-year-old without optimal inclusive opportunities. As the adults plan for her transition language and recreation skills have become a priority. CAI will be used to improve these skills.


Case Study: Jessie

Jessie is a four-year-old boy with PDD-NOS who spends his mornings in an inclusive kindergarten (4-K) program in his neighborhood school. He spends afternoons in an early childhood program for children with ASD that meets in a school across town. Jessie's goals this school year are to develop his school readiness skills, continue to build on his verbal communication skills, and increase his ability to endure the school day. Several times this year, he has had to go home following morning kindergarten because of behavioral episodes. His parents and teachers report that he tires easily and that the demands of 4-K have been challenging for him. A therapist in the afternoon early childhood program has commented that Jessie does better if he has some time away from the typical demands of the school day upon arrival. While not wanting to give up precious instructional time, the team has decided to use computer-aided instruction to give Jessie a break from interactions and task demands, while providing him with opportunities to practice some school readiness skills.

Step 1. Identifying the Target of Instruction

Jessie has two specific goals that will be addressed with CAI. The first goal is for Jessie to increase his ability to sit at and attend to the computer for 15 minutes at a time with minimal adult assistance (i.e., two or fewer verbal reminders), four out of five times across two consecutive weeks. The second goal is that Jessie will learn to use the mouse (i.e., manipulate it across the table top to make the cursor move where he desires, and to use the left click to select items or initiate actions) 100% of the time (with no banging or hitting of the mouse) for two consecutive weeks.

Step 2. Collecting Baseline Data

Observational baseline data show that Jessie is currently able to attend to computer programs that others manipulate for up to seven minutes. Jessie sometimes gets excited about the program and hit the keyboard or grab the mouse, but does not yet know how to use them appropriately.

reader rabbit tm

Steps 3, 4, and 5. Identifying Technology Support, Identifying Available Computers for Use, and Identifying Appropriate Software

The early childhood program has two computers in the classroom that are used with and by children. Program-staff feel fairly confident in using software and have checked with district technology support staff about installing new software. If Jessie does well with and enjoys the software, the four-year old kindergarten teacher is willing to also have the program installed on a computer that her class uses in the elementary school's computer lab. The team believes that Jessie will do well with the software and may also quickly learn how to use other software at the elementary school.

The team decides to purchase and use a Reader Rabbit Preschool TM software program. Jessie's older sister (who is typically developing) enjoyed Reader Rabbit TM software at home when she was in preschool and kindergarten, and some of the teachers and therapists in the preschool program have had experience with other Reader Rabbit TM software. The team discussed whether or not to use the preschool or kindergarten software and decided to start with the preschool version so Jessie is not overwhelmed. Another advantage of the preschool software is that it teaches the use of the mouse in phases. Initially, the learner only has to move the mouse over the icons to make something happen (thus establishing cause and effect). As learners progress, they are introduced to using the left click button to initiate cause and effect. Remember, that the primary use of CAI at this point is to help Jessie develop endurance for the school day. The team wants him to readily master and enjoy the software before increasing demands. They agree that if Jessie does well with the preschool version, they can easily acquire the kindergarten version.

Step 6 and 7. Selecting and Installing Software and Learning the Software

The Reader RabbitTM software is purchased online through a website that offers educator discounts. In this instance, the software is not very expensive so the early childhood program is willing to pay for the software out of their materials budget. They rationalize that the software will likely be used by multiple learners. All school district computers must have an administrator (i.e., someone from technology support) to install or download computer programs, so the early childhood teacher contacts that person and he agrees to load the software on the classroom computer. As soon as the software is loaded, the teacher and educational assistant (EA) spend time learning the software and identify aspects that they believe Jessie will like, as well as areas with which he might have trouble. In this instance, both the teacher and the EA feel that Jessie can start anywhere in the program and do well. They decide to have him use the software with them initially until he is familiar with the options and then they will allow him to choose the activities he most prefers during computer time. Because Jessie has little previous experience with computers, they feel that the preschool program is a good match with his skills.

Step 8 and 9. Completing a Task analysis of Steps for Using Software and Teaching the Software to Others Who Support the Learner

Because Jessie is only four, and other learners his age do not independently use the classroom computers, the teacher decides to create a checklist for staff to use when launching the software with Jessie. The team agrees that, with experience, Jessie can be instructed on more steps so that he can use the software more independently. However, his focus for now should be on spending time at the computer and using the mouse and keyboard appropriately. The checklist that the teacher creates for herself and others to assist Jessie with using the software is as follows:

  1. Turn on computer (if it is not already on)

  2. Log-on to computer (if necessary)

  3. Open CD drive and insert disk

  4. Close CD drive

  5. Have Jessie sit at computer

  6. Using hand-over-hand physical guidance, help Jessie double click on the desktop icon for the desired computer program.

  7. While the software loads, stay with Jessie and remind him to not use the keyboard or the mouse (i.e., point out the hourglass icon that means the software is loading). Place a "stress" ball (i.e., fidget toy) near the keyboard so that Jessie can keep his hands busy, if necessary.

  8. Once the software loads and the welcome or introductory screen is showing, help Jessie choose a beginning activity (using hand-over-hand physical guidance to help him click on the appropriate icon).

  9. Initially, stay with Jessie and help him learn to use the program appropriately. This will likely involve hand-over-hand physical prompting at first; however, prompts should be faded quickly to a touch prompt, a gesture (visual) prompt, and then possibly no prompting or an occasional verbal prompt. Once Jessie is able to interact with the program with few mistakes or frustrations, stay near him to provide assistance if he encounters difficulty in using the program.

  10. Praise Jessie for the things he does well and encourage him as he increases his time at the computer. The focus is on increasing his time at the computer skills and his enjoyment at school while he has a break from academic task and social demands.

  11. If Jessie begins to show signs of frustration or boredom with the software, help him "Exit" the program, and allow him to move on to something else.

  12. After Jessie has exited the program, eject the CD from the CD drive and put it in its case for storage.

  13. If appropriate, shut down the computer.

Step 10. Teaching the Learner Basic Computer Skills

Jessie's team decides not to spend a lot of time teaching Jessie multiple aspects of computer use. They want him to have a good experience with this first software, and they feel that once he has learned to use the computer successfully, additional computer skills can be added. The specific computer skills that the team will focus on for Jessie include using the mouse and keyboard in appropriate ways. If Jessie gets excited while using the program and begins banging either the keyboard or the mouse, the adult helper will interrupt the behavior and implement hand-over-hand guidance to use the tool appropriately, while gently reminding Jessie not to hit the mouse or keyboard.

Step 11. Introducing the Learner to the Software

Using the task analysis generated in Step 9, the teacher, EA, or other adult helper introduce Jessie to the Reader RabbitTM preschool software and support him throughout its use. Baseline data indicated that Jessie could attend to the computer when others were using it for up to seven minutes. Therefore, the initial goal for Jessie will be to stay at the computer for five minutes, stopping before he becomes bored or frustrated. However, if Jessie indicates that he wants to interact with the software for longer than five minutes, the adult helper can extend the time. The important feature here is to stop before Jessie becomes bored or frustrated and follow computer time with another desirable activity (such as snack time, or time in the swing - two of Jessie's highly preferred activities).

Step 12 and 13. Providing Learner with Multiple Opportunities to Use Computer, and Providing Ongoing Support to Learner during Software/Computer Use

Jessie initially uses the computer with the Reader RabbitTM software as soon as he arrives at the early childhood program in the afternoon. Once he has become accustomed to the program and when he requests access to it, he may be allowed to also use the software during free-choice time toward the end of the school day. As noted in Steps 9 and 11, the adult helper will initially remain with Jessie throughout his computer time. As Jessie becomes more adept at using the software and experiences fewer frustrations with using the mouse and keyboard appropriately, the adult may move away from him, but should remain available at all times in order to assist him as needed.

Step 14. Collect Data on Acquisition of Target Skill

Adult helpers should continue to take data on how long Jessie uses the CAI software, as well as his ability to intentionally and appropriately use the mouse and keyboard to interact with the software. The example data sheets shown below demonstrate how baseline and progress monitoring data were collected for Jessie.

jessie\'s computer use - goal 1

Jessie's Computer Use

Goal 1:

Jessie will increase his ability to sit at and attend to the computer to 15 minutes at a time with minimal adult assistance (2 or fewer verbal reminders), four out of five times across two consecutive weeks.

jessie\'s computer use - goal 2

Jessie's Computer Use

Goal 2:

Jessie will learn to use the mouse (i.e., manipulate it across the table top to make the cursor move where he desires, and to use the left click to select items or initiate actions), 100% of the time (with no banging or hitting of the mouse) for two consecutive weeks.

Next Steps for Jessie

Within the first two weeks of CAI use, Jessie looks forward to his computer time with Reader RabbitTM each day after lunch. Staff feel CAI is helping Jessie transition from the K4 setting to the EC setting, thus building his endurance for the school day. There have been fewer behavioral incidents during the transition, supporting the belief that CAI is a helpful activity for Jessie. As for the actual computer use, Jessie has increased the amount of time he can sit at the computer and needs less physical guidance as he becomes more adept with using the mouse. He has made progress toward both of his goals in this area. The plan is for Jessie to continue to have Reader RabbitTM time each day upon his arrival to EC and to offer it as an option during free choice time toward the end of the school day. Jessie's parents are interested in acquiring the program for him to use at home on the weekends.


Case Study: Brady

read 180 tm

Brady is an 11 year old student with a diagnosis of autism. He goes to school in a small rural district that has a very inclusive program. Brady has a general goal of increasing his receptive and expressive language skills for academic tasks. Currently, he is scheduled for language arts and reading in the READ180 (copyright 1999, Scholastic Inc.) classroom at his school.

Step 1. Identifying the Target of Instruction

Brady's goal of increasing receptive and expressive language skills for academic tasks has several related objectives. His team considers where Brady is at in the READ180 program and decides to focus on the following objective: Brady will identify the use of figurative language, such as, idiom, metaphor, and simile in sentence and paragraph level material and verbally express a non-literal interpretation in 7 out of 10 opportunities.

Step 2. Collecting Baseline Data

Baseline data were collected via READ180 rSkills tests (curriculum-based assessment) and showed that Brady is not at grade level for the interpretation or use of figurative language. These data were confirmed with an informal verbal assessment in which the teacher read seven sentences and three short paragraphs that included a variety of idioms, metaphors, and similes and then asked Brady, "What did that mean?" or "What do you think the author was saying?" Brady was able to identify only three of the examples of figurative language correctly.

Steps 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. Identifying Technology Support, Identifying Available Computers for Use, Identifying Appropriate Software, Selecting and Installing Software and Learning the Software

These five steps do not have to be addressed in this situation as the READ180 curriculum had already been purchased and adopted by the district. Thus, technology support has already installed the related software on classroom computers and the teachers using the program with learners have already been through a workshop on its use that is offered as part of the price of the curriculum.

Step 8, 9, and 10. Completing a Task analysis of Steps for Using Software, Teaching the Software to Others Who Support the Learner, and Teaching the Learner Basic Computer Skills

As with Steps 3 - 7 above, Step 9 only needs to be done for staff who were unable to participate in the initial training offered by the makers of READ180. This particular curriculum offers an online training option for those who are unable to attend the initial two day workshop. Steps 8 and 10 may be individualized for Brady using materials provided with the curriculum. In Brady's case, he has worked on computers both at home and at school in the past and has demonstrated competence in basic computer skills.

Steps 11, 12, and 13. Introducing Learner to the Software, Providing Learner with Multiple Opportunities to Use Computer, and Providing Ongoing Support to Learner during Software/Computer Use

Brady is introduced to the software with the rest of the class during the whole group time and subsequent small group rotations, one aspect of which is engagement with the READ180 software. This curriculum package, like many others that include computer aided instruction comes with complete instructions on engaging and supporting learners in the use of the materials. Brady has more questions than his classmates the first few times he interacts with the software and has a tendency to spend too long on practicing and recording words and phrases, so the educational assistant who works with him during the class stays close during his computer time.

Step 14. Collecting Data on Acquisition of Target Skill

Brady's progress in READ180 is monitored through the program's included curriculum-based assessments. His case manager, speech and language therapist, and educational assistant also informally assess his understanding and use related to figurative language every week by reading sentences, phrases, and paragraphs similar to the ones used in baseline that illustrate idioms, metaphors, and similes and questioning him on what they mean or what he thinks the author means with their use.

Next Steps for Brady

Brady is enjoying his participation in all aspects of the READ180 program, particularly the individualized instruction he receives during the computer time. His teachers feel that he is making progress in his understanding and use of figurative language, among other things. As the program is available and will continue to be available for him through this and the next school year, they decide to link all of the objectives for his goal of increasing his receptive and expressive language skills in academic tasks to the program. They also feel, however, that it is important to assess his understanding and use of language in other settings across the day as well, both academically and socially to be sure that what he is learning in language arts and reading is generalizing to other subjects and settings and that Brady's language use is functional and successful.


Case Study: Lorna

Lorna is a 14-year-old girl with autistic disorder (i.e., classic autism). While she is verbal, Lorna does not initiate interactions and needs to be encouraged to use complete sentences and to make varied word choices. Lorna attends school in a district that values inclusion, but has had difficulties in supporting learners of varying abilities across all environments. Thus, Lorna spends about a third of her day in a resource setting so that she can focus on math and language arts. In addition to goals for social skills and career development, Lorna has a language arts (LA) goal of increasing her vocabulary (both written and verbally). As Lorna's team has begun thinking about her transition to adult life, they have prioritized vocabulary that is functional (i.e., words that she needs to recognize and use for independent functioning). She also has a recreation goal that is focused on teaching her what to do with her down time other than watching television or videos.

Step 1. Identifying the Target of Instruction

Lorna's LA goal is to increase her vocabulary by 25 words and to use new words in written and spoken format. Specifically, Lorna will add two to four new words a week to her vocabulary and use them in written language arts activities. She also will practice using the words during interactions with others at least three times a week.

ppvt 4

Step 2. Collecting Baseline Data

Baseline data indicate that Lorna is not at age level for receptive. She scored four years younger than her actual age level on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test. In expressive language use, Lorna's teachers and parents describe her as being very quiet, with few initiations. She uses one or two word phrases to make requests (e.g., "More please," "Done now,") and often responds to initiations of others with short, one word answers (e.g., "Yes," "No," "Goodbye"). All team members agree that Lorna's receptive vocabulary is more important for independent functioning (e.g., being able to follow directions, identify materials), but her parents would like to see her using verbal language in social contexts as well.

concentrate! software

Steps 3, 4, 5 and 6. Identifying Technology Support, Identifying Available Computers for Use, Identifying Appropriate Software, and Selecting and Installing Software

The high school that Lorna is transitioning into has computers in numerous areas including the library, a computer lab, a learning center, and in some classrooms. Lorna's case manager has spoken with the technology support staff at the high school and they have identified computers in three settings that Lorna can use throughout her school day (either by assignment or by choice). The LA teacher and case manager conducted an internet search and identified a software program called, "Concentrate! On Words and Concepts" (copyright 2003, Laureate Learning Systems, Inc.), that teaches vocabulary (word categorization, word association, and word association by function) in a memory game format. The software can be used by one or two persons, emphasizing cooperative learning, short-term memory enhancement, and vocabulary building. The software is designed for recreational use as well. While Lorna's vocabulary is several years below age level, because of her age and the desire of her team to focus on functional language, the team chooses to buy Level III of the software, which focuses on higher level nouns. They contact the seller of the software and learn that there is a 60-day money back option (minus shipping and handling). If the software does not turn out to be a good match, it can be returned. They also learn that the software can only be installed on one computer, so they choose to have it installed on a computer in the computer lab. The lab is accessible to Lorna at any time during the school day.

Step 7. Learning the Software

Once the software program is installed, Lorna's case manager, LA teacher, and educational assistant (EA) become familiar with the program. They are pleased with the level of vocabulary in the program, believing it will allow Lorna to increase her functional vocabulary without overwhelming her. They also like that the software can be used in a recreational format either alone or with a partner. The LA teacher will encourage Lorna to ask a peer in her LA class to play the game with her (once she is familiar and competent with the program).

lorna\'s checklist

Step 8, 9, and 10. Completing a Task analysis of Steps for Using Software, Teaching the Software to Others Who Support the Learner, and Teaching the Learner Basic Computer Skills

Lorna has used computers for a variety of school and recreational activities in the past and has demonstrated competency with basic computer functions. However, she often needs to be reminded to ask for help if she experiences a problem. Based on this, the team does not feel that they need to teach Lorna basic computer skills, but instead will provide her with a visual checklist of steps for accessing the program and handling problems that she encounters. An example of Lorna's checklist appears to the right.

Lorna's support staff learned the computer program together in Step 7 and feel that the software is intuitive enough for Lorna's peers and the various adults who work as computer lab monitors to use. Thus, they do not feel the need to teach the software to others at this point. Due to the cost of the software (over $100.00), it is unlikely that Lorna's family will want to purchase it for home use.

Step 11. Introducing Learner to the Software

Now that the software has been purchased and installed, staff have familiarized themselves with the program, and Lorna's visual checklist is in place (in her LA notebook since she shares the computer with others in the lab), the case manager uses resource room time to introduce Lorna to the program. As a precursor to using the software, the teacher reminds Lorna how to use the computer by demonstrating how to sit at the computer, how to use the mouse and keyboard, and what to do if she has a problem. This is followed by an introduction to the visual checklist and a practice round of "Concentrate! On Words and Concepts." Once Lorna is comfortable with the format, the teacher steps back, allowing her to interact with the program for a few minutes, but staying close to answer questions or provide assistance as needed.

Step 12 and 13. Providing Learner with Multiple Opportunities to Use Computer, and Providing Ongoing Support to Learner during Software/Computer Use

The LA teacher and case manager have arranged for Lorna to use 20 minutes of her regular LA class time to go to the computer lab and use the "Concentrate! On Words and Concepts" software. After Lorna has reviewed her homework at the end of the day and gathered materials for going home, Lorna may choose to go to the computer lab again and use the software. As soon as she has become comfortable with the software, Lorna will be encouraged to ask a classmate to participate with her in the computer game during LA. With success, Lorna may go to the computer lab during LA and Resource on her own. Until then, the case manager arranges for an adult to be readily available during Lorna's computer use so that she can get assistance quickly if she encounters a problem while using the computer.

Step 14. Collecting Data on Acquisition of Target Skill

The LA teacher, case manager, and EA continue to collect data on Lorna's use of newly acquired vocabulary. When they previewed the software, the case manager and LA teacher made a list of the vocabulary included in the software. The EA uses adapted worksheets (which highlight the words from the program) to monitor Lorna's written vocabulary use. The case manager, who serves as Lorna's resource teacher, spends time each week (three times) in conversations with Lorna that focus on using the new vocabulary words. In this way, Lorna's goals of adding two to four new words a week to her vocabulary (used in language arts activities) and using the words in interactions with others at least three times a week may be met.

Next Steps for Lorna

Lorna learns to use the software fairly quickly and enjoys the memory game format. She especially enjoys playing the two player version with a classmate or adult when she can. In addition, Lorna is using the software game feature as a leisure activity in place of more television watching. Unfortunately, she has learned all of the vocabulary offered in the software and there is not a next level. From here, Lorna's team would like to see her begin to use computer programs that are available to all students in the computer lab and online. When looking for software to start Lorna with, her case manager and LA teacher found many websites that offer a variety of vocabulary activities and games, often organized by grade and/or topic. To promote vocabulary and language use to other settings (e.g., community, home), the team is turning their attention to peer-mediated instruction and intervention.


Computer-aided instruction (CAI) is an intervention whose time has come. Technology is an ever-increasing part of our daily lives and both hardware and software are increasingly affordable for the average consumer. Learners with ASD who enjoy using computers may find CAI a helpful tool for skills acquisition. Teachers also may find it useful for instruction. Parents and other caregivers may find it an appealing teaching activity in the home setting. While CAI should be implemented with forethought and care, its use can be an important and enjoyable part of the instructional day. Those wishing to use CAI should communicate with available technology support experts and use the support offered with many software packages from the companies that produce and market them.

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