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.


31st Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2005

Event Details

Previous Page


Symposium #162
CE Offered: BACB
Assessing Social Behavior of Preschoolers with Autism in Natural Settings
Sunday, May 29, 2005
10:30 AM–11:50 AM
Continental B (1st floor)
Area: AUT; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Sandra L. Harris (Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey)
Discussant: Gail G. McGee (Emory University)
CE Instructor: Lara M. Delmolino Gatley, Ph.D.

Social behavior deficits, while central to the diagnosis of Autism, remain an elusive behavioral target. In ABA, specific behaviors related to social functioning are often measured and targeted for treatment. Skills such as eye contact, intraverbals, or other specific responses are successfully developed through systematic instruction and programming for generalization. However, it remains much more difficult to define, assess, and target social competence as a more abstract concept. Agreement in the literature and clinical field as to what constitutes key social behavior and appropriate tools for direct measurement has not been established. Such agreement, to whatever extent possible, is necessary for more universal outcome research and comparison across individuals and interventions. This session will address a number of issues related to this central topic. The first paper will describe a series of pilot investigations developing a methodology for measuring social behavior in various settings. The second paper focuses on measuring social behavior in contrasting settings and over time as an instrument of assessing change and examining how setting and time interact. The final paper will examine the ways in which these systems are sensitive to change, with regard to other measures of social behavior. Future directions will be discussed.

Establishing Reliable Systems of Measurement for Social Behavior: Issues and Key Variables
MARY JANE WEISS (Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey)
Abstract: The abstract nature of social skills and qualitative aspects of social interaction and competence lead to significant issues in reliability and face validity. The current paper describes the development of a behavior code for assessing social behavior occurring during natural settings for preschoolers with autism, with specific attention to issues of reliability. A systematic process by which a series of behavior codes were developed and adapted from the literature will be described. Limitations of each pilot investigation will be discussed, highlighting the implications for each successive study. Data will be presented from multiple groups of preschool students (with and without autism/PDD) attending both segregated and integrated preschool settings. Data will be shared demonstrating significant and reliable differences among groups along measures of social behavior. Further, data will also be shared indicating greater difficulty in capturing to changes over time, attempts to increase the sensitivity of the code to such issues, and correspondence to subjective measures. Findings are related to published literature in this area with implications for future revisions and pilot investigations.
Assessing Improvement in Social Competence of Preschoolers with Autism: Changes in Structured Versus Unstructured Contexts
MEGAN P. MARTINS (Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey), Lara M. Delmolino Gatley (Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey), Mary Jane Weiss (Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey)
Abstract: Since social competence is a primary focus of autism intervention, it is essential to include assessments of social behavior change when evaluating comprehensive programs for children with autism. Preschoolers with autism attending an intensive treatment program using applied behavior analysis and comparison peers were repeatedly observed throughout an academic year. Using a behavior code previously demonstrated to be sensitive to social behavior change in children (McGee, Feldman, & Morrier, 1997), participants were observed during naturally occurring periods of structured and unstructured play. Structured play differed from unstructured play due to arrangements in the classroom such as introduction of games and materials that encourage social interaction, prearranged proximity to peers, and increased teacher facilitation of play. Data suggest that children with autism displayed fewer key social behaviors but that social behaviors change over time was noted for both groups of children. However, changes in key social variables (proximity to peers, receipt of social bids, and time spent focused on children) were more noticeable in structured play settings for children with autism. Findings will be discussed in terms of implications for assessing the effectiveness of autism intervention.
Direct Measurement of Social Behavior: Sensitivity and Relationship to Other Measures
LARA M. DELMOLINO GATLEY (Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey)
Abstract: There is very little agreement in the field of autism and developmental disabilities about the need for measurement of social behavior, as a means for identifying treatment targets and evaluating intervention outcomes. Predominant measurement of social behavior in treatment studies often involves subjective and indirect measurement. This is in contrast to the preferred methodology in Applied Behavior Analysis in which direct measurement is the procedure of choice. Previous studies have presented models for direct observation of social behavior of preschoolers with autism. The current paper explores the relationship between data gathered from direct observation and information from caregiver and teacher report on standardized survey instruments. Correspondence and differences between data gathered from these sources will be discussed in light of utility to longitudinal treatment outcome studies and generality of findings.



Back to Top
Modifed by Eddie Soh