Father Fights Autism with a Mouse

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Affordable and effective computer software teaches children with learning disabilities to become independent learners; Excellent source of visuals of children using the DT Trainer

As April marks Autism Awareness Month, Columbia-based software company, Accelerations Educational Software (AES), continues to expand its first program for individuals with autism, the Discrete Trial Trainer (DT Trainer), and is getting ready to release a second product.

The DT Trainer has grown to more than 150 content programs and teaches children a range of subjects from animals, shapes, numbers, and letters to more complex topics such as time, money and word problems. It employs Applied Behavioral Analysis methods from behavioral psychology to enable students to learn independently even if they normally require one-on-one instruction. Along with these updates, AES is also preparing for the release of its second product, the Activity Trainer. Both products not only help teach individuals with autism but help teach other individuals with learning disabilities.

Several years ago, Karl Smith's son with autism couldn't read. Smith, a software engineer, began tinkering with a computer program he'd initially designed to supplement his son's therapy. "We had spent four years trying to get him to read words like 'cat' and 'dog,'" he recalls. "After just a few weeks he could read words like 'elephant.' We filled in the right holes and his reading took off." Now his teachers say that he's the best speller in his class.

In 2000, after positive initial input from schools and special education professionals, Smith left his job to begin working full-time on his educational software. Initially using his life savings to fund the project, Smith has now successfully created one of the most unique and robust teaching aids available for children with autism and other learning disabilities.

Since its release, the DT Trainer is now used in over 550 school districts, over 70 private schools and centers of excellence, as well as in thousands of homes nationwide. Now housed in the University of South Carolina's Technology Incubator, Smith's company has increased its staff to handle developing the wide range of content needed to teach individuals with moderate to severe learning disabilities.

Keeli Bowen, a special education teacher in suburban Atlanta, uses the DT Trainer in her classroom. "I absolutely love the DT Trainer! We use it everyday in our classroom. It is fun, educational and it allows for my students to be independent while learning. I recommend this fantastic program to all teachers." Not only has the DT Trainer been found effective in teaching children with autism, it's just as powerful a teaching aid for other children with learning disabilities.

Even as the size of program continues to grow, Smith has maintained the same low price. "Our mission is to create effective and affordable software," Smith says. "We're impacting the lives of as many students as possible by charging just a tenth of the usual cost for the size and robustness." AES charges $99 for home versions and $249 for classroom versions.

Plans are also underway for the release of the Activity Trainer, which will use video modeling and schedules to educate children with autism and other learning disabilities. Video modeling is a well-researched and powerful educational method that teaches various skills, such as writing, self care, and social interactions. The Activity Trainer's expected release date is late Spring 2007.

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Josch Nasrollahi
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