University of Canterbury, Christchurch, 24 August 2014: A University of Canterbury PhD student has developed a computer game that enables children to improve their social skills.The results of the study have shown that her system is effective both with children who only have social problems and also those who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Atefeh Ahmadi Olounabadi, who has been supervised on campus by professors Tanja Mitrovic and Julia Rucklidge, says children with ADHD are not able to learn the same as other children. Sitting in classrooms and listening to the teacher is challenging for them, she says.
“My passion is to help these children with the aid of computers. Professor Mitrovic who has received an $830,000 Marsden Fund grant to develop computer-based treatment for stroke patients to improve their memory, has worked on intelligent tutoring systems for several years and had a lot of experience in the field.
“I developed an educational game to teach them what they struggle to learn in a classroom. Among all the subjects an ADHD child needs to learn, social skills have a high priority, so that we chose to teach them about social problem-solving skills.
“In my project we integrated different methods to develop an approach for teaching social problem-solving skills to children as well as applying their knowledge to real-life situations. Our system presents a set of social situations to the learner, and requires them to make a decision in terms of an action to take.
“I conducted a study in Iran with 60 children who had difficulties with social skills. One group of 20 children did not have ADHD. The other 40 children had been previously diagnosed with ADHD. Twenty of them had been treated by psychologists in a group environment while the remaining 20 interacted with our computer game.
“The 20 children without ADHD also interacted with our computer game. Each child attended eight sessions to work with the computer game.
“The results of the study show that our computer game improved the social skills of the participants significantly more than the psychologist-led group intervention. That means ADHD children can learn much better working with educational computer games than traditional approaches.
“The results show that our computer game was effective with ADHD children and other children. Both groups improved their social skills significantly after using the game,’’ says Ahmadi, who is finalising her computer science and software engineering PhD thesis.