The use of tablet application to develop the social interaction skills of children with intellectual disabilities

With technology creeping into every aspect of everyday life and facilitating  various  daily  tasks,  education  is no exception. Technology could, and should help, with improving the speed and quality of education. Teaching social skills is an area that tends to be somewhat overlooked in the education sector, meaning that when technology is implemented in education, it is generally oriented towards enhancing academic skills.

Social skills could be defined as the necessary behavioural components that are essential in correct interpersonal interaction, inevitably also averting the causing of physical or psychological harm  to  others [1]. Social-skills training (SST) has been derived from a number of approaches, all of which assume that social behaviour could be taught using a number of structured teaching methods. Some of these methods include homework tasks, discussion and modelling [1].

This project aims to apply the use  of technology to the teaching of social skills to children with intellectual disabilities, focusing on the core skills required to behave within the social norms of society in a number of key social situations, such as the classroom, which forms a significant part of the daily lives of children.

Figure 1. A snippet of the story entitled, “Giving Good Advice”

This goal was achieved through the creation of an Android application, where, the children were provided with  an  innovative,  interactive  platform  through which they could practice their social skills under the guidance of their learning-support educators (LSE). This is accomplished through a set of stories with a social theme, and with each ‘social’ story, the children are presented with three different illustrations. One of these illustrations portrays the correct way to behave, whereas the other two demonstrate incorrect behaviour. The children are encouraged to choose which illustration they think presents the correct behaviour. Gamification techniques, such as rewards and encouraging sound effects, were incorporated into the application to increase the children’s level of engagement and motivation. The illustrations were displayed through the use of video-based instructions, which is the creation of videos by teachers to be used in a classroom environment, in such a way that the teacher would be in control of the exact, tailored content that is presented to each student [2]. Past researchers have proven that video-based instruction could be used successfully in helping adolescents with intellectual disabilities develop social skills [2].

The application was evaluated using a set of feedback forms, and surveys that were conducted among LSEs from two schools. More than one school was requested to participate in the evaluation of this study, so as to remove the possibility of any form of bias, which could have occurred if restricting the study to a single school.

The results obtained from the evaluation suggested that the proposed IT solution does increase a child’s motivation and productivity in learning of social skills, and that gamification techniques play a crucial role in capturing children’s attention, enabling them to perceive an obligatory task such as social skills training as an exciting activity which they look forward to. Furthermore, the results also indicated that such an IT solution could facilitate the teaching process of social skills from the perspective of an LSE. However, the results relating to this research question were not conclusive, and further research on this matter would be required.


[1] S. Spence, “Teaching Social Skills to Children”, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, vol. 24, no. 4, pp. 621-627, 1983, Available: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.1983.tb00138.x.
and the second to the following:

[2] J. Plavnick, T. Kaid and M. MacFarland, “Effects of a School-Based Social Skills Training Program for Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Intellectual Disability”, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, vol. 45, no. 9, pp. 2674-2690, 2015. Available: 10.1007/s10803-015-2434-5.

Student: Luke Xuereb
Course: B.Sc. IT (Hons.) Computing and Business
Supervisor: Dr. Peter Albert Xuereb