Effectiveness of Assistive Technology in Promoting Playfulness in Young Children

Purpose: Through the Let's Play! service model a caregiver-centered, assistive technology-supported, play-based service (AT/Play) was developed to promote play and playfulness in young children in early intervention (EI). The purpose of this Phase II project is to 1) determine the effectiveness of the Let's Play! AT/Play approach in establishing physical (accessible toys and supporting materials) and human (strategies for communication and interaction developed jointly between caregivers and project staff) environments that promote play and playfulness in children with disabilities; and 2) determine the feasibility of using the Let's Play! AT/Play approach within EI settings.

Method: The Let's Play! AT/Play approach was developed and implemented over 5 years time in the Western and Central New York area. AT/Play services were offered in conjunction with other EI services for children and families. Feedback from caregivers indicated a high degree of satisfaction with services provided. Children were seen to make gains in playfulness. Rigorous field-testing of the AT/Play approach to substantiate these initial findings will be carried out in this proposed project, addressing the following two questions: 1) Is the AT/Play approach effective in developing a supportive human and material environment that promotes play and playfulness in children with disabilities? and 2) Is it feasible to continue to include the AT/P approach with other EI services? To answer these questions we have designed a 3-phase project using both qualitative and quantitative methodology.

The qualitative methodology will be used to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the current AT/Play approach, the impact of AT supported play environments on development of young children/participants in the project, and caregiver satisfaction with the approach The feasibility of continuing this service in EI programs will also be investigated. To examine these questions focus groups and follow-up interviews will be held pre- and post-intervention. Phase 1 (pre-intervention) groups will include current participants in the Let's Play! service model. Separate focus groups will be held for 6-8 participants in each of 3 categories: caregivers, service providers, and service coordinators and EI administrators. Individual phone interviews will be held with participants following the focus groups to validate and clarify findings. Phase 3 (post-intervention) focus groups will be held after families (n=18-24) complete a series of 6 AT/Play intervention sessions. Follow-up interviews will be held with focus group participants, as needed, to clarify and validate information from the groups. Caregiver satisfaction surveys (with both open-ended and categorical questions) addressing the materials and strategies used in the AT/Play approach will be completed following the 3rd and 6th intervention sessions. Focus groups and phone interviews will be audio taped and transcribed for analysis using NVivo software. Data from satisfaction surveys will be analyzed using Nvivo.

Quantitative data will be collected at baseline, following 3 intervention sessions, and following 6 intervention sessions on play, playfulness, and environmental supportiveness from families recruited for this project. Tools to be used include the Test of Playfulness, the Test of Environmental Supportiveness, and the Revised Knox Preschool Play Scale. Data will also be collected from a comparison group of children and families matched for child's age and disability, but not referred to the Let's Play! service model. Data will be analyzed both within and between groups, allowing for comparisons at each time point and examination of change over time. Correlations will be examined between playfulness and environmental supportiveness. The combination of qualitative and quantitative data collection permits analysis in a complementary manner that allows us to look for instances of agreement or disagreement between the different sources of data. Triangulation will be done between all data sources to validate findings.

Dissemination: Findings will be disseminated broadly using the Let's Play! website, publications in peer-reviewed journals, and the development of manuals for potential replication.