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S. Eden, A. Oren

Bar Ilan University (ISRAEL)
ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) is a congenital neurodevelopmental disorder, whose symptoms are expressed in two central categories: persistent deficits in social communication and interaction, and repetitive patterns of behavior with limited interests and activities (APA, 2013). The children who participated in this study are high-functioning (HFASD). The research deals with the social aspect of the disorder and focuses on pro-social behavior, defined as the ability to channel positive feelings and behaviors toward others to their benefit. Pro-social behavior is based on the ability to be aware of others' distress and the desire to care for them (Eisenberg, 1992). There have been few studies that have dealt with pro-social behavior of children with ASD, and the results are not consistent (e.g. Bauminger-Zviely & Agam, 2014; Lin et al., 2012). Also, most studies focused on school-age and included a very small sample. Due to this, the need arose to further investigate the pro-social abilities of children with HFASD and to develop appropriate interventions, such as a computer-mediated intervention. Studies (Rice et al., 2015; Thomer et al., 2015) indicate the advantages of learning with computers among ASD children that tend to prefer predicted and structured environment, tends to think and learn visually, needs repetitiveness and controlled environment.

The goal of the study was to determine whether there is a gap between children with HFASD and children with typical development in their ability to exhibit pro-social behavior, and to compare pro-social behavior between children experiencing a computer-mediated intervention and a non-computer-mediated intervention. The study was conducted among 58 preschool children, ages 4-7. The group of children with HFASD was randomly divided into two groups: one group experiencing computer-mediated intervention and the other group experiencing a non-computer-mediated intervention. The intervention—nine sessions of 30 minutes each, once a week over a period of two months—was based on the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) model, combining cognitive learning with active experience. During the intervention, pairs of children went through a step-by-step process learning how to solve social problems. After preliminary tests (PPVT; SCQ), observations were conducted before and after intervention and were designed to evaluate the pro-social ability (Sigman et al., 1992). Observations included four measurements: attention to the distress of others, impact of a social situation on game playing, behavior in response to the distress of others, and facial expression in response to the distress of an adult. Each measurement was tested in three situations: an adult expressing pain, an adult showing signs of sickness, an adult showing fear. Teachers completed Vineland questionnaires measuring pro-social behavior.

Before the intervention findings indicate gaps in the pro-social abilities of HFASD children and children with typical development. However, after the intervention the gap between the two decreased. Comparing the two HFASD interventions groups, the computer-mediated intervention group improved in some pro-social measures compared to children with typical development. The study points to the advantage and effectiveness of using a computer-mediated-intervention program to promote pro-social abilities in preschool-age children with HFASD. It is recommended to further examine the impact of the intervention.