Another exciting development at ATT: we are now able to help children begin a Fast ForWord computer based language programme. Initially, we anticipate assisting 12 children with this programme in 2012. After this, we will work towards putting ourselves in a position to assist children long-distance. We are aiming at significantly reducing the cost to families for accessing FFW and making this language processing therapy more widely available.
The Fast ForWord (FFW) programme is a learning acceleration programme based on over 30 years of neuroscience research combined with the advancement of computer technology. The programme develops the cognitive skills that enhance learning in areas of memory, attention, processing rate, and sequencing. FFW offers a range of game sounds that are spectrally and temporally altered to enhance cues important for speech discrimination and these enhancements are gradually reduced as a child progresses through the game. Games are completed when the child reaches an accuracy criterion (85%), which eventually leads to the advancement from the Language to the Language to Reading programme. The strengthening of these skills results in a wide range of improved critical language and reading skills such as phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, decoding, working memory, syntax, grammar, and other skills necessary to learn how to communicate or to become a better reader.
FFW is particularly suited to address the language processing difficulties experienced by individuals affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). The auditory processing required to understand words, syllables and sounds is often impaired in these conditions, causing the children to ignore speech and tune out when they are spoken to. This programme allows the progressive building of the auditory skills required to process language. It capitalises on the ASD individual’s innate ability to use a computer-based technology with high visual information content that also features reduced distractibility and social exposure.
The programme involves a daily set of activities for 5 weeks selected specifically to match the child’s performances and learning preferences. The activities last between 30 and 100 minutes and the whole programme runs for 4-16 weeks depending on the individual. The activities will be conducted in a purpose-build learning environment designed to maximise the child’s learning, with minimal distractibility and access to reinforcers to motivate the child to complete the proposed activities. The responses given by the child are not prompted to insure that they reflect the actual understanding of the language activity. If performance decreases, the following activities are adjusted accordingly, and equally, higher performance will dictate further increased language complexity. The performance of the child is recorded at all time.
The success of FFW Language in remodeling the brain was demonstrated with the brain imaging technique of Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) with individuals affected by Dyslexia. Thousands of children have successfully used Fast ForWord on an Asperger’s and autism programme in the US though the programme is not as readily available in UK and the rest of Europe. To date however, there is insufficient validation of this approach in RCT design, possibly because FFW is compared to other language approaches and tested for a short duration (e.g. 6 weeks in some trials). Other studies have demonstrated very promising benefits of FFW. For example, Russo and collaborators showed that auditory training on auditory function in children with ASD, brainstem and cortical responses to speech sounds presented in quiet and noise were improved in five children with ASD who completed FFW training. It is important also to realise that as far as autism is concerned, the child needs to be assisted in completing the activities, as motivation and distractibility are major limiting factors to learning. At Autism Treatment Trust, we believe we have the required knowledge of autism and good inter-personal skills to maximise the child’s performance in a given learning task.
Funding was awarded to ATT from the Big Lottery, Award for All for an iMac and equipment required for the FFW programme.
Friel-Patti, S., Loeb, D.F. and Gillam, R.B. (2001) Looking ahead: An introduction to five exploratory studies of Fast ForWord. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 10: (3): 195.
Gillam, R.B., Loeb, D.F., Hoffman, L.V.M., et al. (2008) The efficacy of Fast ForWord language intervention in school-age children with language impairment: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 51: (1): 97.
Lajiness-O’Neill, R., Akamine, Y. and Bowyer, S. (2008) Treatment Effects of Fast ForWord® Demonstrated by Magnetoencephalography (MEG) in a Child with Developmental Dyslexia. Neurocase, 13: (5-6): 390-401.
Rapin, I. and Dunn, M. (2003) Update on the language disorders of individuals on the autistic spectrum. Brain and Development, 25: (3): 166-172.
Russo, N.M., Hornickel, J., Nicol, T., et al. (2010) Biological changes in auditory function following training in children with autism spectrum disorders. Behavioral and Brain Functions, 6: (1): 60.
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