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UNT Insider | March 2010 Issue | UNT opens laboratory focusing on learning technologies for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

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UNT opens laboratory focusing on learning technologies for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

From a UNT News Service press release

Demetria Ennis-Cole

Demetria Ennis-Cole

Cathie Norris

Cathie Norris

Approximately two to six children out of every 1,000 children born in the U.S. will eventually be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders, with boys more likely to be diagnosed than girls, according to the Autism Society of America.

A new laboratory in the UNT's College of Information will determine technology products and tools that will enhance the math, reading and social skills of children with ASDs in kindergarten through sixth grade.

The Technology and Applied Research in Autism Laboratory, or TARA, held its grand opening and open house earlier this month. The laboratory is located at UNT's Discovery Park campus.

Demetria Ennis-Cole, associate professor of learning technologies, and Cathie Norris, Regents Professor of learning technologies, will direct the laboratory.

Ennis-Cole says laboratory researchers will study how existing technology tools may benefit children with ASDs. They include tools for augmentative communication ó communication for those with impairments in their ability to produce or comprehend spoken or written language, she says.

"In addition, we plan to develop and test exploratory curricula and virtual learning environments for young learners with ASDs," she says.

By evaluating the tools with children, the researchers will help their parents and teachers decide which technology tools they should buy to advance math, reading and social skills, she says.

"Kids need to learn to be socially appropriate and have proper vocabulary and listening skills, because these are basic skills that can transfer to any environment, including school." Ennis-Cole says. "As a result of our research, we will disseminate information on effective technology solutions for both home and school use."

Ennis-Cole previously focused on technology to assist other special populations, including mature adults. She added children with Autism Spectrum Disorders after her son was diagnosed with a moderate form of autism. She made her own tools to help her son, now 10 years old, improve his vocabulary.

The elementary school students selected for the research will visit TARA for 30 to 45 minute sessions up to three times a week. The laboratory can accommodate up to eight students at a time, but more than eight will be selected for the research, Ennis-Cole says.

Supervised by faculty members and graduate students, the children will use reading and math software, computer games, video modeling, reading devices, flash cards and sensory items. The researchers will study the tools' effectiveness through experimental research designs that use pretests and posttests, surveys of teachers and parents and observations of the children.

"The ultimate goal is to see how many children we can help through the research," Ennis-Cole says.

For more information about TARA, call 940-369-8121.

Nancy Kolsti with UNT News Service can be reached at

Read other stories in this issue:

March 2010

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