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.


32nd Annual Convention; Atlanta, GA; 2006

Event Details

Previous Page


Symposium #175
Conceptual and Empirical Investigations on the Nature of Autism Spectrum Disorders
Sunday, May 28, 2006
1:30 PM–2:50 PM
Regency VII
Area: AUT; Domain: Basic Research
Chair: Jonathan J. Tarbox (Center for Autism and Related Disorders)
Discussant: William H. Ahearn (New England Center for Children)
Abstract: Autism remains a controversial disorder and continues to rise in prevalence, reaching near-epidemic proportions. While much is known about the details of the effective treatment of autism via applied behavior analysis, little is yet known about what makes autism distinct at the functional level. This symposium presents three papers which address varying areas relevant to autism, including basic processes such as habituation, “theory of mind” performances, and behaviors labeled as “executive function” by the larger psychological community. Each paper addresses potential similarities between autistic and non-autistic individuals, among other things, from the standpoint of behavior-environment interactions. The final segment of the symposium will consist of a critique of the papers by the discussant.
“Theory of Mind” in Autism: A Review and Critique from a Radical Behavioral Perspective.
JONATHAN J. TARBOX (Center for Autism and Related Disorders), Rachel S. F. Tarbox (Center for Autism and Related Disorders), Doreen Granpeesheh (Center for Autism and Related Disorders), Ryan Bergstrom (Center for Autism and Related Disorders), Iser Guillermo DeLeon (Johns Hopkins University)
Abstract: “Theory of mind” refers to the ability to infer the mental states of others. That is, to know when someone else is sad, happy, annoyed, thinking, planning, intending, seeing, hearing, etc. This ability is said to be a critical prerequisite to human social interaction. Although this statement has not been empirically evaluated, it seems clear from casual observation that appropriate social behavior involves responding differentially depending on the “mental” states of others (e.g., one does not interact with another in the same manner when the other is happy versus sad). A significant amount of research has demonstrated that individuals with autism show a marked delay in the development of behavioral repertoires labeled “theory of mind” and the topic appears to be enjoying increasing popularity as a result. In a natural science of psychology, the term “mental states” cannot refer to events taking place in the “mind,” but rather must refer to events taking place in the physical world. According to Skinner (1957; 1974), “mental” events are to be dealt with just as overt psychological events and are called “private events.” Little behavior analytic research has been done on private events in general and even less on one person’s behavior with respect to the private events of others, as is involved in “theory of mind.” This conceptual paper will review and critique Baron-Cohen’s evolutionary developmental “theory of mind” causal mechanisms, review and critique behavioral accounts, and propose a program of empirical research on establishing “theory of mind” skills in children with autism.
Beyond Words: Reductionism and Executive Function in the Study of the Behavioral Features of Autism.
GREGORY A. LIEVING (Kennedy Krieger Institute), Louis P. Hagopian (Kennedy Krieger Institute), Lisa M. Toole (Kennedy Krieger Institute), Heather Jennett (Kennedy Krieger Institute), Eric Boelter (Kennedy Krieger Institute)
Abstract: The performance deficits displayed by individuals diagnosed with autism are characterized as symptoms of poor executive function in the fields of neuropsychology and cognitive developmental psychology. The concept of executive function, as it is used most often, is an explanatory mechanism that attempts to ascribe behavioral control to overriding highest-order processes and forebrain regions correlated with these assumed processes. In an attempt to recast the characterization of these performance deficits without reference to nebulous cognitive or physiological constructs, we have hypothesized that these performance deficits may be examined and explained more parsimoniously and precisely as quantitative differences in behavioral sensitivity to contingencies at the level of behavior-environment relations. Specifically, we are in the process of collecting data from several experiments that are designed to test hypotheses that individuals diagnosed with autism differ from control subjects in the areas of response persistence, behavioral variability, and behavioral sensitivity to current contingencies using operant conditioning tasks that do not rely on verbal control. This general approach to understanding the performance deficits displayed by individuals diagnosed with autism may lead to more refined and targeted remediation strategies, relative to a cognitive approach that does not lend itself well to the development of effective technology.
Responding to Repeating Auditory Stimuli: A Comparative Analysis of Children with Autism and their Typically Developing Siblings.
JANICE K. DONEY (University of Nevada, Reno), Patrick M. Ghezzi (University of Nevada, Reno)
Abstract: Nonassociative processes are viewed as necessary for the progression to associative processes. An absence or deficit in a nonassociative process can presumably retard the development of associative processes of the respondent and operant type. The relevance of nonassociative processes to the development of associative processes and the potential for impairments in nonassociative processes to lead to deficits in operant behavior bears directly on the problem that young children with autism have in the developing meaningful social and verbal behavior. Habituation, a nonassociative process, is defined by a response decrement that occurs following repeated presentation of a specific stimulus. Children with autism are often described as overly reactive and distracted by inconsequential stimuli in the physical environment, and therefore, habituation was selected as the starting point for an analysis of differences at the nonassociative level between typically developing children and children with autism. Children with autism and their typically developing siblings were exposed to varying intensities of auditory stimuli. The frequency of the OR and rate of an operant response in the presence and absence of the auditory stimulus were examined within-subject and within-triad in order to assess differences in children’s responding to the repeating stimulus.



Back to Top
Modifed by Eddie Soh