Parent-training through a mobile app to improve communication in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
A research study shows evidence for using an app to improve parent-implemented intervention and functional communication in children with ASD
What do we already know about parent-mediated intervention?
Parent-implemented intervention is a therapy model where the therapist teaches parents specific techniques for them to use with their children. This model is different than the traditional therapy model where the therapist works directly with the child. It is also referred to as parent-delivered, parent-led, or parent-mediated intervention.
Parent-implemented intervention is an effective way to improve communication skills in children with ASD. It has many advantages including empowering parents to help their children and increasing how often children receive communication strategies throughout their day. Research studies have demonstrated that the model improves children’s communication, improves their communication more than traditional therapist-delivered therapy, and that these improvements continue for years after therapy has ended.
Many parent-implemented therapy programs rely on frequent, face-to-face training sessions. This study aims to test whether using a mobile app could help improve the efficiency of this process. Using an app would allow parents to complete training at home and at their own pace, reducing the time and cost of frequent face-to-face meetings with a therapist.
What was this study about?
This study tested the effectiveness of an app, Map4speech, that trains parents in language therapy techniques and, in turn, helps to improve the communication of their child with ASD. The researchers, who were also the makers of the app, followed 3 mother-child pairs as they used the app. Participants completed the training at their own pace which took an average of 6.7 weeks. Therapy goals were individualized for each child: one child worked to increase verbal language and two of the children worked to increase gestures. The parents learned therapy strategies such as following their child’s lead, imitating their child’s communication and actions, spending time together, and providing prompts and rewards. They were asked to spend 15 minutes, 5 days a week practicing the strategies with their child. Parents sent in videos of themselves practicing the skills and then checked in with a therapist via Skype who provided feedback.
What did they find?
The researchers found that parents improved their intervention skills after completing the app. Parents also rated the app positively. Their children improved their prompted communication; however, there were only small changes in their spontaneous (unprompted) communication.
Why is this important?
We know that parent-implemented intervention is an effective tool for increasing children’s communication skills; however, it can be expensive and time-consuming for parents to attend weekly therapy appointments. Mobile apps could make intervention easier for families.
We need more research showing mobile apps are an effective tool for parent-implemented intervention. This study was very small, only 3 families, so it will be helpful to continue to evaluate these programs.
Law, G.C., Neihart, M., & Dutt, A. (2017). The use of behavior modeling training in a model app parent training program to improve functional communication of young children with autism spectrum disorder. Autism. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361316683887