Background: A few online tools to facilitate communication and resource sharing among treatment and education team members working with children with autism have been developed. To date, no studies have investigated how these interfaces affect collaboration among users. There are no standard ways of measuring team interaction on digital interfaces. Rigorous measurement of these interactions will provide new knowledge about the impact that digital interfaces have on care coordination and outcomes. We developed, using R programming, a method to map digital social networks as a promising approach for studying team dynamics on digital interfaces for individuals with autism.
Objectives: To demonstrate how networks of communication and resource sharing can be inferred from measurements of electronic activity of team members, and how reports about that communication can be built to support team interactions.Methods: As part of the pilot of a larger, multi-site HRSA study, we asked autism support teams to use a social networking application designed to facilitate communication between teachers and parents. We asked teams to use the tool during the implementation of two interventions: 1) a school transition support intervention implemented before, during, and after the child�s transition between schools and 2) diagnosis to treatment intervention, implemented post diagnosis for families without services. Data was collected from the application and then, using R, transformed to describe activity and communication on each of the teams. These variables were then built into reports delivered to study coordinators.
Results: By using the application, members of the support teams were able to create and share calendar events, links, documents, pictures, and resources that work for the child. We experienced some challenges getting the data out of the application but once we did, the data provided a clear picture of real time, actual communication of teams. Using R, data from these teams were used to build hover reports, describing communication and activity of those teams. These reports were then given to site administrators to help them understand what team members at their sites were doing. For the pilot, we successfully extracted the data from the app and computed average counts of different types of interaction (e.g. posting a link to the team), as well as the average number of roles present on each team.
Conclusions: Online tools present an opportunity for teams providing support to children with autism spectrum disorder to communicate and share resources and knowledge. Researchers and other entities can hover over communication in these online tools to measure actual collaboration within these teams to both measure them and to provide feedback that can better focus or guide future intervention.