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Teaching Social Skills to Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders in Virtual Environments
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Teaching Social Skills to Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders in Virtual Environments

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  • 1. TEACHING SOCIAL SKILLS TOSTUDENTS WITH AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS IN A VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT: AN EXPLORATORY INQUIRY Presented June 11, 2011 Council for Exceptional Children-Texas San Antonio, Texas Krystle McWhorter, Athens ISD Rochell R. McWhorter, UT-Tyler Copyright Krystle McWhorter and Rochell McWhorter, 2011
  • 2. Impetus for this Exploration• We have a family member with an ASD (Aspergers Syndrome) that could benefit from social skills training• We have had several opportunities to observe secondary students with ASDs and social interactions via computer technology that led us to conjecture that virtual environments might be an appropriate intervention for increasing social awareness and social skills in a low-stakes setting. Copyright Krystle McWhorter and Rochell McWhorter, 2011
  • 3. Our exploratory research questionCould computer-mediated communication enable the teaching of social skills in a virtual environment? Copyright Krystle McWhorter and Rochell McWhorter, 2011
  • 4. What does the research say?• Burke, Krout & Williams (2010) found that the use of email and Instant Messaging (IM) through Facebook and other IM platforms was helpful to students with ASDs because it: • provides additional time to think of a response, • removes pressure for eye contact, and • reduces self-consciousness about parlinguistic cues (nonverbal elements, such as intonation, body posture, gestures, and facial expression, that modify the meaning of verbal communication) Copyright Krystle McWhorter and Rochell McWhorter, 2011
  • 5. Two participants in their study shared these comments:• “You‟re not looking at them and they can‟t see your facial expressions on an email. Talking face-to-face is harder because you have to keep eye contact and give them your attention” (Ryan, age 23)• “It‟s often easier to communicate with people using instant messenger. Get more instant responses. Gives me an opportunity to think about what I want to say” (Charles, age 30) Copyright Krystle McWhorter and Rochell McWhorter, 2011
  • 6. A third study found…• Coburn (2009) examined IM conversations (of at least 20 minute duration) between students with and without Asperger‟s and found IM conversations: • Results showed no significant differences between groups on any of the variables (such as # of responses and content), or for the behavior of the control group between conditions, suggesting that people with Asperger‟s are likely to communicate in this medium in ways that are very similar to their neurotypical peers. Copyright Krystle McWhorter and Rochell McWhorter, 2011
  • 7. A study of technology and students with ASDsParsons, Bearden & Neale et al. (2000) recognized thatstudents with high functioning autism (HFA) andAsperger‟s Syndrome (AS) are typically capable ofhandling academic work but are significantly impairedin social understanding leading to social exclusion andfailure to maintain employment due to difficulties inmaking friendships and communicating ideas.Also, depression, and other secondary psychiatricdisorders, are especially common amongst people withHFA and AS (Tantam, 1988), and there is a higherthan average incidence of suicide in this population. Copyright Krystle McWhorter and Rochell McWhorter, 2011
  • 8. (Continued)Parsons, Bearden & Neale et al. (2000)posited that technology could be used tofacilitate the teaching of social skills invirtual environments.Parsons et al. (2004) found that studentswith ASDs perceived avatars in a virtualsetting as having people-likecharacteristics. Copyright Krystle McWhorter and Rochell McWhorter, 2011
  • 9. Also reported:• Virtual Environments offer people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders the ability to learn and practice social skills in a safe environment that represents the real world.• This could be beneficial to people with autism, allowing them to be aware of „rules‟ for social interaction, even if they do not understand them. Copyright Krystle McWhorter and Rochell McWhorter, 2011
  • 10. Copyright Krystle McWhorter and Rochell McWhorter, 2011
  • 11. What is Second Life?• According to Texas A&M University (2010): Second Life is a three- dimensional (3D) virtual world that is an emerging online teaching environment.• It runs on a free client application in which users interact with each other using avatars, or onscreen characters.• Chat and multimedia features are also available to facilitate participation in individual and group activities. You can explore and build unique, "in-world" virtual properties and points of interest that are only limited by your imagination. Copyright Krystle McWhorter and Rochell McWhorter, 2011
  • 12. What does the research say?• According to McWhorter (2010), sophisticated spaces such as 3D virtual worlds should be investigated for their potential for human development.• According to Mancuso, Chlup & McWhorter (2010), the 3D virtual world of Second Life™ was found to be a conducive learning space for developmental efforts. Copyright Krystle McWhorter and Rochell McWhorter, 2011
  • 13. ANECDOTAL CASEGentle Heron (Avatar name) is an Informational Librarian whoworks in Second Life. She is a former special education teacherwho has been working with parents and students with ASDsand other disabilities (See: ttp://virtualability.org/default.aspx).Through coaching/mentoring techniques, several students werereported to have acquired additional social skills throughrepetition of social skill development. Copyright Krystle McWhorter and Rochell McWhorter, 2011
  • 14. Conclusions and Implications• Literature extracts and an anecdotal case have led us to believe that the use of technology-mediated communication through such platforms as instant messaging (IM) and virtual worlds such as Second Life™ should be further investigated as sophisticated spaces for coaching students for ASDs for “safe” training areas for the teaching and reinforcement of social skills.• We intend to pursue this line of research. Copyright Krystle McWhorter and Rochell McWhorter, 2011
  • 15. References
  • 16. Contact Us• Krystle McWhorter, KR Virtual Designs, krvirtualdesigns@gmail.com• Rochell McWhorter, rmcwhorter@uttyler.edu

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