COVID grant supports literacy resources for children with developmental disabilities  

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to disrupted attendance at schools and clinics for many children with developmental disabilities.

A Caring Futures Institute team of researchers led by Professor Joanne Arciuli will address this by developing a new way to support the literacy needs of children with autism, cerebral palsy, and Down syndrome.

The team will develop an online hybrid model of successful literacy program ABRACADABRA (ABRA) for children struggling with literacy due to COVID disruptions, behaviour challenges or poor instruction from the educator.

The project is funded by the Caring Futures Institute’s COVID-19 grant scheme which supports research related to health or communication care needs affected by the pandemic.

Project lead and Caring Futures Institute Methodological Innovation theme lead Professor Joanne Arciuli says the pandemic has affected attendance at schools and education clinics, restricting the literacy learning opportunities available to children with developmental disabilities.

“Our project will explore caring solutions to this challenge by adapting the existing ABRA method to create a new hybrid model of telehealth activities,” she says.

“It will involve an online facilitator, Caring Futures Institute Research Fellow Dr Ben Bailey, working with the child online to complete games-based literacy activities.

“This activity will be in addition to anything the child is learning at school or elsewhere. We will also work with parents who will sit with their child and help manage behaviour during the ABRA sessions and engage with their child during additional literacy activities at home.”

Caring Futures Institute Methodological Innovation theme lead Professor Joanne Arciuli

The research team also includes Associate Professor Pammi Raghavendra, Dr Fiona Rillotta, and award winning recent PhD graduate Dr Darryl Sellwood. New PhD student Annemarie Murphy is working on a similar project and will be invited to learn more about the research process by working with some team members.

The study will soon be recruiting participants.

ABRA was originally developed by a team at Concordia University in Canada and demonstrated enhanced literacy skills in children with autism when delivered face to face by a trained facilitator in homes and schools.

Professor Arciuli says she was was first exposed to the success of the free online program when she heard about it at a conference presentation some years ago.

“I learned that ABRA had been used successfully in a study in the Northern Territory in mixed ability classrooms that included a high number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children,” she says.

“It has since been used with a variety of populations in many different parts of the world. Dr Ben Bailey and I have been working with ABRA and children with developmental disabilities in world-first studies over a number of years.

We see high engagement and positive effects on literacy skills. We hope our new hybrid model of ABRA delivery and home-based literacy support will address some of the disruptive effects of COVID.”

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