Computer-based intervention for social attention in autism

This project – known as Click-East – explored whether a specially designed iPad app could teach specific social skills to preschoolers with autism.

After developing the FindMe app, the researchers carried out a randomised control trial to test whether it was a successful learning aid.

Key findings
  • The intervention was not found to have an observable impact on real-world social communication skills. For this reason, caution is recommended about the potential usefulness of iPad apps for improving difficulties in interaction. 
  • However, the app engaged children, who played consistently, regardless of developmental level. It was also rated highly by parents. This suggests this kind of intervention may be worth pursuing further, perhaps targeting other types of skills.

54 children with autism took part in the trial, all aged under six. Half of the children took home iPads with the app for two months, while the other half received no special support.

The researchers measured the possible benefits of the app in two ways. First, they observed videos of children playing with their parents, while looking for the kinds of social interactive behaviours that the app was designed to teach. Secondly, they asked parents to complete questionnaires, to try and detect subtle changes in their children's skills and behaviour. 

Dr Fletcher-Watson explains her findings in this short video. The full findings of the study can be found in this article for the the journal Autism

The FindMe app won a runner-up prize in the 2016 Rosalind Franklin Appathon Competition.