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A Multimodal Messaging App (MAAN) for Adults With Autism Spectrum Disorder: Mixed Methods Evaluation Study

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submitted on 2024-05-02, 12:19 and posted on 2024-05-02, 12:20 authored by Mohamad Hassan Fadi Hijab, Dena Al-Thani, Bilikis Banire

Background

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often exhibit difficulties in social and communication skills. For more than 30 years, specialists, parents, and caregivers have used techniques, such as applied behavioral analysis, augmentative and alternative communication, and the picture exchange communication system to support the social and communication skills of people with ASD. Even though there are many techniques devised to enhance communication, these techniques are not considered in existing social media apps for people with ASD.

Objective

This study aimed to investigate the effect of adding accessibility features, such as text-to-speech (TTS), speech-to-text (STT), and communication symbols (CS), to a messaging app (MAAN). We hypothesized that these accessibility features can enhance the social and communication skills of adults with ASD. We also hypothesized that usage of this app can reduce social loneliness in adults with ASD.

Methods

Semistructured interviews were conducted with 5 experts working in fields related to ASD to help design the app. Seven adults with ASD participated in the study for a period of 10 to 16 weeks. Data logs of participants’ interactions with the app were collected. Additionally, 6 participants’ parents and 1 caregiver were asked to complete a short version of the Social and Emotional Loneliness Scale for Adults (SELSA-S) questionnaire to compare pre-post study results. The Mobile Application Rating Scale: user version questionnaire was also used to evaluate the app’s usability. Following the study, interviews were conducted with participants to discuss their experiences with the app.

Results

The SELSA-S questionnaire results showed no change in the family subscale; however, the social loneliness subscale showed a difference between prestudy and poststudy. The Wilcoxon signed-rank test indicated that poststudy SELSA-S results were statistically significantly higher than prestudy results (z=−2.047; P=.04). Point-biserial correlation indicated that the SELSA-S rate of change was strongly related to usage of the TTS feature (r=0.708; P=.04) and CS feature (r=−0.917; P=.002), and moderately related to usage of the STT feature (r=0.428; P=.17). Lastly, we adopted grounded theory to analyze the interview data, and the following 5 categories emerged: app support, feature relevance, user interface design, overall feedback, and recommendations.

Conclusions

This study discusses the potential for improving the communication skills of adults with ASD through special features in mobile messaging apps. The developed app aims to support the inclusion and independent life of adults with ASD. The study results showed the importance of using TTS, STT, and CS features to enhance social and communication skills, as well as reduce social loneliness in adults with ASD.

Other Information

Published in: JMIR Formative Research
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
See article on publisher's website: https://dx.doi.org/10.2196/33123

History

Language

  • English

Publisher

JMIR Publications

Publication Year

  • 2021

License statement

This Item is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Institution affiliated with

  • Hamad Bin Khalifa University
  • College of Science and Engineering - HBKU

Methodology

Semistructured interviews were conducted with 5 experts working in fields related to ASD to help design the app. Seven adults with ASD participated in the study for a period of 10 to 16 weeks. Data logs of participants’ interactions with the app were collected. Additionally, 6 participants’ parents and 1 caregiver were asked to complete a short version of the Social and Emotional Loneliness Scale for Adults (SELSA-S) questionnaire to compare pre-post study results. The Mobile Application Rating Scale: user version questionnaire was also used to evaluate the app’s usability. Following the study, interviews were conducted with participants to discuss their experiences with the app.

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    College of Science and Engineering - HBKU

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