Discovery Magazine

Tactile Awareness Prompting Systems (TAPS)

This research initiative supports the development, beta testing and use of vibrotactile technology for teaching students with autism. TAPs uses small transducers known as tactors to optimize behavioral responses to epidermal vibrations. This initial study demonstrates the utility of tactile prompts for teaching social skills to children who have autism.

Current methods for teaching students with autism rely on the use of conventional “intrusive” prompting strategies such as verbal or visual cues. Tactile prompting has been previously shown to have potential. However, previous approaches for integrating vibrotactile prompting in environment when teaching students with autism have been “static” and did not exploit the full potential of vibrotactile cueing technologies.

TAPS, an Android tablet-based system, allows instructors to use various tactile pattern cues to signal students to initiate social interactions with peers. Multiple tactors are mounted in a student-worn vest or belt, which also allows clinical investigators to use multi dimensional patterns to signal distinct social responses. For example, the TAPs system can be used to orient the student (e.g., attend to a peer to your left), and then signal that a “how are you feeling” response is appropriate versus an orienting cue to ask the peer on the student’s right if they would like to play. Teachers are able to communicate appropriate social responses in real time by changing the magnitude, frequency and gain of tactors embedded within the receiving unit. Furthermore, the multi dimensional adjustments of TAPs may facilitate prompt fading so the transducers may be efficiently faded while the responses continue to occur.

TAPs may also be used to prompt teachers to interact with students. For example, a teacher wearing a TAPs unit during small group instruction could be remotely cued to reinforce a particular child (using an orientation cue) with a specific preferred item (a favorite toy or food item).

Tactile prompts may prove especially beneficial in noisy classroom environments or for teaching students with autism who may be unresponsive to traditional social-based prompting strategies. The use of tactile prompts for teaching students with autism will be expanded by the development of the TAPS system and subsequent integration of vibrotechnology within educational settings. It is anticipated that TAPs will be developed as a commercially available product in the near future.