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MU online curriculum helps children with autism develop better social skills

by Kate Hodel | Feb 05, 2018

Research-backed program will be available to millions of families and educators 

One in 68 children in the United States has some form of autism spectrum disorder, which impairs a child’s ability to communicate and interact. Because of the social challenges these children face, many efforts are being made to find new ways to help children with autism grow their social skills. iSocial, a classroom curriculum designed by University of Missouri researchers to help children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) cultivate better social skills, has been licensed by Nascent Stage Development LLC to develop the program into an expansive, online virtual world. Nascent will contract with other online educational companies to make the lessons available to millions of families and educators globally.

Nascent’s acquisition of the rights to iSocial was managed by MU’s Office of Technology Management and Industry Relations. Whiteboard2Boardroom, a University of Missouri – Kansas City Innovation Center program that works with 23 research institutions, hospitals and corporate partners across Kansas and Missouri, helped connect MU to Nascent

“We are able to give entrepreneurs like Bob Etzel a very early look at the innovations coming out of area universities, research institutions and hospitals,” said Jim Baxendale, W2B director. “We help identify innovations to match them with entrepreneurs and corporations that can take them to the global market.”

iSocial helps children with autism develop better social skills by leading them through a guided lesson plan based on evidence-based strategies. In the virtual world, children, parents and teachers will be able to collaborate and interact using personal avatars. Janine Stichter, professor of special education and the author of the iSocial curriculum in the MU College of Education, said a digital platform enhances the ability to reach more students.

“An online format of iSocial increases opportunities for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder because it gives them opportunities for repeated practice and feedback that are hard to give in a typical classroom,” Stichter said. “The digital platform also helps children build connections and friendships with other students, and provides families and educators access to an interactive platform that supports student learning.”

Bob Etzel, the president and founder of Nascent, and his team have agreements with commercial partners that will provide powerful channels for the program. iSocial is contracting with Sandbox & Co, an online education company whose services are used by one third of all teachers in the nation every week.

“When Brett Maland from the University of Missouri introduced me to iSocial I knew that I was standing at the leading edge of ASD research,” Etzel said. “I also knew that our NSD technologists could greatly expand and amplify the University program by teaming with them to introduce the top emerging technologies. We are very excited to support the work that Dr. Stichter and Jim Laffey started with iSocial and their vision for virtual delivery.”

Stichter helps provide clinical care in the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, which provides evidence-based clinical care and compassionate support for children with autism spectrum disorder and their families. Nascent will start selling the paper version of iSocial immediately, and the virtual world will be launched this March.

 


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