Florida Atlantic University Center for Autism & Related Disorders
The purpose of Project iCAN is to teach individuals with ASD effective communication skills using an iPad and a communication app called, Proloquo2go. Training will be provided to income and program eligible families in Palm Beach County (PBC) that are registered constituents of Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (FAU CARD). The objective is to provide trainings to underprivileged families with severely affected children so that they can access and communicate with their world. This project will be spearheaded by FAU CARD clinician and FAU doctoral student, Elisa Cruz-Torres, BCBA.
Documentation supports that students with lower SES do not have access to the same variety of learning materials and supports as their peers with higher SES backgrounds. Lack of access to enriching resources may hinder language acquisition and opportunities for social engagement as well as mediate behavior problems. Children of low SES with ASD that have severely impaired communication skills and no access to stimulating learning materials have an even steeper uphill battle. They may be frustrated and bored and engage in inappropriate behaviors. Unfortunately, these inappropriate behaviors can also lead to negative responses from parents, peers, and teachers. Another problematic area is the inability to generalize acquired skills from one setting to another.
Currently, some ASD classrooms in the PBC School District are utilizing a variety of advanced assistive technology tools in the form of AAC devices as funded by the district. If students do not bring their own personal AAC devices, parents can request one from the district. Students with communication impairments can be taught to communicate more effectively in the school setting and, if given permission by the district, they may take the device home. Unfortunately, the device still belongs to the district. Unless accommodations are made, the device must be returned at the end of the school year. In essence, the student is losing his or her voice after learning how to use it. Also, it is unlikely parents are being trained. If students have the opportunity to take the AAC device home, it is critical that those in the home environment are taught how to use it.
Compared to other AAC devices, the iPad costs significantly less. It is also stimulating in its presentation, flexible in its customizability, and portable in its construction. Further, one of the most advantageous features is its acceptability. Compared to other more stigmatizing AAC devices, the instant “cool” factor associated with using the iPad provides individuals with ASD the opportunity to, not only communicate and socialize with their peers, but to be acknowledged and accepted.
The Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP) will be used to measure the effectiveness of the iPad and Proloquo2go in developing communicating skills. A portion of the funding from this grant will be provided to an Autism Resource Teacher employed with the PBCSD who has experience in conducting the VB-MAPP.
The iCAN project strongly supports Autism Speaks’ mission to improve the quality of life for individuals affected by autism. With your support, FAU CARD will also be able to expand our current services by, not only providing the training to promote effective communication, but also the tools and related materials. FAU CARD also seeks to share results at regional, state, and national conferences. Autism Speaks Family Services will be credited at all trainings and presentations as the supporter of Project iCAN.
In order to achieve our goal, the iCAN project will consist of the following six phases. Phase 1 will consist of the participant selection where families registered with FAU CARD will be notified and interested members will receive an application form. Phase 2 will consist of pre-assessment where the VB-MAPP will be completed for each student. Phase 3 will consist of an all-day group workshop that will teach family members how to use the iPad, the communication app, and set boundaries. Phase 4 will provide in-home programming support. Phase 5 will consist of in-home and/or school consultation at regular time frames. Phase 6 consists of the post-assessment to measure gains.
Not only will Project iCAN directly impact underprivileged children with ASD in the Palm Beach County community, it will also extend the collaboration that currently exists between FAU CARD and school district personnel that serve students with autism. Including the staff in the assessment process and providing them with the option to participate in the iPad and Proloquo2go training in the school setting will help support FAU CARD’s goal to optimize the potential for individuals with autism while training supporting family and staff to efficiently implement these tools.