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.


33rd Annual Convention; San Diego, CA; 2007

Event Details

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Symposium #507
Recent Research on the Treatment of Severe Problem Behavior Maintained by Automatic Reinforcement
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
12:00 PM–1:20 PM
Ford AB
Area: DDA; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Joel Eric Ringdahl (University of Iowa)
Discussant: Henry S. Roane (University of Nebraska Medical Center, Munroe-Meyer Institute)
Abstract: Problem behavior maintained by automatic reinforcement continues to present challenges to effective treatment. Treatment options have focused on the delivery of competing reinforcers (i.e., NCR), the presentation of alternative reinforcers contingent on appropriate behavior, the blocking/redirection of problem behavior, and the use of negative punishment (e.g., timeout or response cost). In this symposium, 3 studies will be presented describing treatment strategies used in the treatment of such behavior problems. Desribed treatments will include the use of noncongingent reinforcement (NCR), differential reinforcement, response cost, or some combination thereof.
An Analysis of Vocal Stereotypy and Treatment Schedule Thinning.
ELIZABETH S. ATHENS (University of Florida), Timothy R. Vollmer (University of Florida), Kimberly Sloman (University of Florida), Claire C St. Peter (West Virginia University)
Abstract: Some individuals with developmental disabilities display repetitive vocal behavior, or vocal stereotypy. Vocal stereotypy is a concern to caregivers because its occurrence can adversely affect the individual engaging in the behavior, interfering with sleep patterns, social interaction, and learning, and can be disruptive to those around the person. The present study is a replication and extension of research by Falcomata, Roane, Hovanetz, and Kettering (2004), in which noncontingent reinforcement (NCR) plus response cost was more effective than NCR alone in decreasing the vocal stereotypy of an 18 year-old male diagnosed with autism. In the current study, for an adolescent male diagnosed with Down syndrome and autism, a functional analysis indicated the behavior was maintained by automatic reinforcement. The analysis also showed that instructions and noncontingent attention suppressed vocal stereotypy. A treatment package consisting of noncontingent attention, response redirection, and response cost effectively reduced inappropriate vocalizations. The treatment package remained effective even when noncontingent attention was removed, making the procedure more practical to implement. Also, the presence of the therapist in the room with the participant was systematically faded. Upon completion of fading, vocal stereotype remained low during conditions similar to the alone phase of the functional analysis.
Immediate and Subsequent Effects of Matched and Unmatched NCR as Treatment for Stereotypy.
APRIL S. WORSDELL (Southern Illinois University), Ann M. Chitren (Southern Illinois University)
Abstract: Previous research has shown that noncontingent reinforcement (NCR) is more effective in suppressing automatically maintained behavior when the alternative stimuli “match” the sensory consequences of aberrant behavior (Higbee, Chang, & Endicott, 2005; Piazza, Adelinis, Hanley, Goh, & Delia, 2000). However, there is limited research examining whether the effects of NCR persist once the intervention has been removed. In the current study, the immediate and subsequent effects of NCR were evaluated on stereotypic behavior maintained by automatic reinforcement. Two NCR conditions were compared in which either matched or unmatched stimuli were continuously available. Stereotypy was measured before, during, and immediately following exposure to matched or unmatched NCR. Results showed that in all cases, stereotypy occurred at near-zero levels during both NCR conditions. Furthermore, levels of stereotypic behavior were consistently lower during post-NCR observations relative to pre-NCR observations. These results provide evidence that the effects of NCR may extend to time periods in which alternative stimuli are unavailable, which supports the utility of NCR as a durable intervention.
Differential Reinforcement of Communication for Competing Stimuli for Behavior Maintained by Automatic Reinforcement.
WENDY K. BERG (University of Iowa), David P. Wacker (University of Iowa), Joel Eric Ringdahl (University of Iowa), Jason M. Stricker (University of Iowa), Kelly M. Vinquist (University of Iowa)
Abstract: Challenging behaviors maintained by automatic reinforcement are difficult to treat because we are not able to identify the reinforcers maintaining behavior. In this study, a paired choice assessment was conducted to identify stimuli that were more preferred than the reinforcers maintaining challenging behavior. Once identified, access to the preferred stimuli was made contingent on the participants’ signing “please” (differential reinforcement of communication - DRC) and the absence of challenging behavior. The effects of the DRC treatment were contrasted to a baseline condition in which the preferred stimuli were available on a noncontingent basis (NCR) within an ABAB design. Participants were two males, ages 10 years and 26 years, who were diagnosed with autism and mental retardation and who engaged in self-injury that was maintained by automatic reinforcement. The DRC treatment resulted in a reduction in problem behavior and an increase in signing “please” for each participant. Interobserver agreement averaged 90% for each participant. These findings are important because the DRC treatment produced results that are similar to those reported for functional communication training for challenging behavior maintained by social reinforcers, even though the reinforcers for communication in this study did not match the function of the challenging behavior.



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