Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


34th Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2008

Event Details

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Symposium #219
CE Offered: BACB
Extending ABA Social Skills Training for Children with Autism
Sunday, May 25, 2008
1:30 PM–2:50 PM
Continental C
Area: AUT/DDA; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Gerald E. Harris (Texas Young Autism Project)
Discussant: Gerald E. Harris (Texas Young Autism Project)
CE Instructor: Gerald E. Harris, Ph.D.

Deficits in the social functioning of children with autism can be challenging to address. The complexities and subtleties of social interactions often require more exactness and forethought in the application of ABA procedures. While some success in using ABA techniques to improve social skills has been reported, there are many social skill areas not yet fully addressed or even understood. This symposium presents data and new information on procedures used within an ABA Treatment Center for children with autism to extend and improve their social functioning. The first presentation focuses on generalizing social behaviors, initially trained through interactions with adult therapists, to more natural peer interactions. The second presentation looks at teaching children with autism to modulate their voice volume in response to specific environmental stimuli in order to better communicate socially. The third presentation offers data on a new application of an emotional coding system, using specific facial cues, which can help in teaching children with autism to understand and express emotional subtleties more effectively. Together, these three studies extend our knowledge of, and ability to modify, the social skills of children with autism.

Using Environmental Cues to Teach Volume Modulation to Young Children with Autism.
KRISTEN MCCLINTOCK (Texas Young Autism Project), Maureen Childs (Texas Young Autism Project), Ehsan Bayat (Texas Young Autism Project), Gerald E. Harris (Texas Young Autism Project)
Abstract: Children with autism often display prosodic deficits (McCann, 2003). Prosodic problems are often life-long even if other areas of language improve. Voice volume is one aspect of prosody which people use to communicate their affect and pragmatic intent (Crystal, 1969). A study conducted by Fetherston, Brothers and Poulson (2007) trained distance as the discriminative stimulus for volum modulation for children with autism. The current study extended those findings with the additional components of training for adjusting volume levels due to ambient distracters and speaking to a listening partner whom is out of sight. Participants were four children enrolled in a discrete trial applied behavior analysis program. All participants displayed a lack of variation of volume at baseline. Using verbal imitation skills, the children were taught to vary their volume dependent upon the distance of the listening partner as well as to adjust for ambient sounds. Results demonstrated that children with autism could be taught to adjust their volume levels according to listener distance, and environmental sounds. Interobserver agreement was above 85% for all phases. This study has practical applications in the treatment of autism.
Generalization of Adult Trained Social Skills to Interactions with Typical Children.
JOHN SALINAS (Texas Young Autism Project), Ehsan Bayat (Texas Young Autism Project), Gerald E. Harris (Texas Young Autism Project)
Abstract: Research has shown that children with autism can learn to initiate play (Gaylord-Ross, Haring, Breen & Pitts-Conway, 1984), usconversational scripts (Krantz & McClannahan, 1993) and engage with other children through peer modeling procedures (Charlop & Walsh, 1986; Pierce & Schreibman, 1995; Werts, Caldwell & Wolery, 1996). However, many treatment centers utilize adults to teach social skills and may not have access to typical children to use in treatment. The purpose of this study was to examine an in vivo social initiation intervention for children with autism using adults and then evaluate generalization of the skills to interactions with typical peers. Participants were three children with autism who had deficits in sociainitiation. The subjects acquired social initiation skills while interacting with two adult therapists, and then were able to generalize the skills to novel adults. However, the subjects needed training sessions with typical children to generalize the skill to similar age peers. Interobserver agreement was 90% for training and generalization probes. This study’s findings suggest that children with autism may require specific training with typical peers in order to generalize adult trained social skills to peers interactions.
Training Affective Expression Coding in a Treatment Center for Children with Autism.
ALEXIS HYDE-WASHMON (Texas Young Autism Project), Trea Drake (Texas Young Autism Project), Catriona Cullum (Texas Young Autism Project), Gerald E. Harris (Texas Young Autism Project)
Abstract: Understanding and expressing emotion through facial cues is a prominent characteristic of effective social communication, and is often deficenit in children with autism. Using ABA procedures to teach such social communication depends on adequately operationally defining emotional constructs. This study identified overt facial characteristics (e.g., brow, nose, and mouth movement) indicative of seven emotional states displayed by typically developing children. Treatment staff was then trained to code the seven emotional states utilizing the techniques of written description, practice with visual media, and performance feedback. Agreement between observers was above 90%, indicating a good ability to use those specific cues to code affect. There was also good evidence of generalization of skills, once adequately trained, by the staff across children. These findings indicate that the affective expression coding system can be effectively implemented in a treatment center for children with autism. Using this coding system to operationalize nonverbal communication target behaviors, both expressive and receptive, and then monitor intervention procedures designed to promote affective communication in children with autism has the potential to greatly improve their social outcome.



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