The Click-East project was divided into two main stages. The first stage was about developing an educational iPad app for young children with autism, and the second stage tested whether it is a successful learning aid. This second stage was a rigorously-designed randomised controlled trial, registered on both the UK Clinical Research Network study portfolio and on the National Institute of Health clinical trials register.
Recently we were delighted to be awarded the runner-up prize in the Rosalind Frankline Appathon 2016 Challenge 2: “To recognise leading women in STEMM who have pioneered new apps for research, societal good and enterprise” This gave Sue the opportunity to record a short video about the app and our related work.
If yo’re interested in the results of the formal app evaluation, the report has now been published and is free to download from the journal Autism. You can also watch this 3 minute video in which we summarise the findings and what they mean.
Designing the app
The first stage of the project involved a range of different people who contributed to the development of the game in different ways. At the University of Edinburgh the project received contributions from computer programmers and human-computer interaction specialists in the School of Informatics and from animators at the Edinburgh College of Art, as well as myself, a developmental psychologist. We collected a lot of feedback on the game from typically-developing children, parents of children with autism spectrum disorders, teachers and nursery nurses providing specialist provision for children with autism spectrum disorders, speech and language therapists and young adults with an autism spectrum diagnosis.
There’s a description of the design process in more detail in this poster and you can also hear me talking about methodological issues associated with designing and evaluating technologies in this two minute video clip which was recorded at one of the Digital Bubbles seminars. For a more detailed description of the design phase here is a video of me presenting our work at the ITASD conference in Spain in 2012.
Evaluating the app
In Stage Two we tested whether the app we designed had a beneficial effect for children with autism. It was our hope that by learning and practising basic social and communication skills in a safe and fun way, children will start to show these skills in real life too. Using a computer game as a learning tool plays to the strengths of children with autism, who often show a strong preference for technology and a lot of ability in this area.
We recruited 54 children aged under 6 years old who all had a diagnosis of autism, and they were randomly sorted into intervention (working with the iPad™ for 2 months) and control (no special support) groups. The game was enjoyed by the children and rated highly by parents – children played for about ten minutes per day consistently across the 2 month period, and they got better at the game, regardless of their general ability level. However the assessments we did with children before and after working with the iPad™ showed that the game didn’t change children’s social behaviours in the real world. We measured this using parent questionnaires and also by observing children while playing with their parent.
We recommend caution about the potential usefulness of iPad™ apps, especially for teaching interactive skills. However, positive attitudes among participants, lack of negative effects and the potential of apps to provide cheap, accessible learning opportunities suggest this approach is worth pursuing further, perhaps targeting other types of learning.
Commercial Partnership: Interface 3
Interface 3 is our commercial partner. To give the app a life beyond the research project (both in terms of lifetime and quality of life) we engaged in a partnership with this award-winning Edinburgh based company. For more about this decision, have a look at this post on the Blog page. Alongside the research project detailed above, Interface 3 have published the app for worldwide consumption – it is called FindMe and available on iTunes for iPhone and iPad in both Lite and Pro versions. There is also a version available for Android devices and on this platform Interface 3 (under the brand name Tigerface Games) also made three more apps for children with autism based on our theoretically-motivated designs.
If you have already purchased the app, we’d love to hear your feedback. Please follow this link to complete a short survey. Your responses will be incredibly valuable in helping us to continue our work on this app, and in proposed future research continuing to explore modern technology-based education and therapy for people with autism spectrum disorders.