MIND Institute researchers are studying how emerging technologies can bring evidence-based therapies, educational programs and support systems for autism “to scale.” Using that technology can simultaneously create a treasure trove of new data, helping research efforts even more.
UC Davis researchers are testing virtual reality to deliver proven exposure therapy and habituation learning techniques to highly distractible children, such as those with ADHD. VR headsets are broadly available and growing more inexpensive, creating opportunity for widespread use.
MIND Institute researchers are leading several studies that explore whether scientifically designed games can improve the hyperactivity of ADHD or the limited spatiotemporal cognition common in neurodevelopmental disorders. Digital games could be powerful-yet-inexpensive treatments that are easily accessible and reach more children.
In one example, a recent UC Davis-led study found that large-scale in-home cognitive interventions using computer memory training games are feasible — and may be beneficial — for kids with fragile X syndrome.
Virtual support groups
Virtual support groups can connect people with autism or their families to additional social skills workshops, helping them move to independence and easing some of the burden on caregivers.
MIND Institute researchers are using telehealth to teach and coach parents in their own homes about language learning support for children with fragile X syndrome. The utility of combining such distance-delivered interventions with medications is currently being tested in a large multiuniversity NIH study.
For community hospital clinicians who care for kids with ASD, the institute’s ECHO® Autism Teleconferencing Program offers one-on-one telementoring with UC Davis specialists and CME credit.
Technology can help individuals to achieve personal goals, and help them or their informal caregivers to stay in regular communication with care teams. In turn it can also enhance providers’ knowledge to help deliver better care, if developed in partnership with users and their health care systems.
Program development is underway for a telehealth model that will train rural physicians in evidence-based screening and identification procedures for ASD, and provide ongoing consultation for challenging cases.
Assistive communication technologies
The MIND Institute supports a variety of education, training and research activities around existing and emerging assistive technologies, such as behavioral and scheduling aids for mobile devices.
Since a third of people with ASD are nonverbal or very limited verbally, one emphasis is “augmentative and alternative communication,” or the use of personalized approaches and devices to increase communication ability. Methods can range from picture cards, to voice output devices that play prerecorded messages, to eye-gaze trackers indexed to messaging.
Virtual classes, conferences and workshops can help train parents, providers, teachers and administrators. The MIND Institute helps operate the California Early Start Support Network, a collaborative project that uses regular videoconferencing to train and support practitioners providing early intervention services.
The institute’s CEDD also develops free online training programs, such as the Autism Distance Education Parent Training (ADEPT) series designed to help enhance independence and community integration. The 10-lesson interactive online learning module provides parents with tools and training to more effectively teach functional skills to their child with ASD, using applied behavior analysis techniques.
The MIND Institute facilitated the creation of the California Autism Professional Training and Information Network, a group of more than 350 professionals that developed the interagency collaborations needed to carry out a statewide plan for improving youth services.
Technologies integrated into the home might provide prompts when it’s time for medication, grooming, work or a meal. Autism experts partnering with engineers could also utilize robotics to realize new ways of providing therapies and medications.