South Dakota Center for Disabilities Uses Innovative Trainings in Technology for Autism Spectrum Disorders

April 30, 2012

South Dakota's Center for Disabilities Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) Program is initiating innovative new training programs across the state using iPads and other computer-based interventions for students with ASD.

As technology continues to revolutionize the way service providers are able to meet the needs of people who have social, communicative, and other challenges associated with ASD, many students have shown promising response to interventions using devices such as Apple iPods and iPads.

The Center for Disabilities' Autism Program Director, Eric Kurtz, Ph.D., explains, "These technologies, along with selected applications, have provided a more flexible, accessible, portable, and cost-effective way to intervene with individuals with ASD and individuals with developmental disabilities. They provide alternative modalities of instruction, response, and communication between a student with autism who has difficulty interacting, and their parents and teachers."

The trainings are designed for professionals who work with individuals with an ASD. Participants receive a six-hour training session delivered via a variety of formats including didactic instruction, discussions, live demonstration, and guided practice with iPad technology. In addition, the participants each receive three individual coaching sessions focused on using the technology within their work settings. Remote technical assistance is also available.

Luke Comeau, M.A., Autism Specialist at the Center for Disabilities, conducts the training.  With a master's degree in special education and experience teaching pre-K through year 13 special education, Comeau is also a nationally certified Alternative Augmentative Communication programmer.  Having worked in the video game design industry as well, Comeau is able to create his own games/programs or take existing ones and modify them for the specific needs of someone with a disability. 

During each of the one-day trainings, participants learn about the nature and characteristics of ASD and are guided through Apple iPad technology regarding how it can directly support the specific areas in which individuals with an ASD may have challenges. They are introduced to Apple iTunes and are shown how to obtain or purchase applications. Participants use iPads during the training for hands-on experience. The program also allows up to 10 participants to apply for a $1,000 grant to purchase an iPad and selected applications and programs to utilize within their work settings.

The Center for Disabilities is excited about the possibilities in these new trainings, not only for professionals who receive the trainings and their students, but also to help expand the body of knowledge regarding the effectiveness of these technologies.

"An additional goal of this project will be to have ongoing data collection," said Kurtz. "The data will be used to examine the impact of utilizing tablet technology in the treatment of communication and social interaction with children diagnosed with ASD and other developmental disabilities."

The Center for Disabilities' Autism Spectrum Disorders Program is the only non-profit independent source for ASD services and supports in South Dakota.  Since 1989, the ASD program has continued to expand its programming and now provides diagnostic evaluations, consultations, training, technical assistance, family support and dissemination of information to families, educational and health care professionals, people with disabilities, policymakers and the general public on issues relating to ASD. The Center for Disabilities is South Dakota's University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research and Service (SDUCEDD).

The training program is supported with funding from the South Dakota Department of Education. For more information about the trainings, contact Dr. Eric Kurtz, Director of the Autism Spectrum Disorders Program, Center for Disabilities at the Sanford School of Medicine of the University of South Dakota: 605-357-1439 or 800-658-3080;