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.


40th Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2014

Event Details

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Symposium #505
From Flexibility to Problem-Solving: Teaching "Executive Function" Skills to Children with Autism
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
11:00 AM–11:50 AM
W184bc (McCormick Place Convention Center)
Area: AUT/DDA; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Christopher A. Tullis (Ball State University)
Discussant: William F. Potter (California State University Stanislaus)

Decades of research have demonstrated the effectiveness of behavioral intervention for teaching foundational verbal, social, and self-help skills to children with autism. Relatively less research has been devoted to teaching more complex skills. Executive function is a traditional psychology term that refers to a broad repertoire of behaviors that are critical for successful social, academic, and vocational functioning for older children and adults. Most executive function skills involve what Skinner referred to as secondary repertoires that are learned and maintained because they support other more basic repertoires of behavior; self-management and problem-solving being the prototypical examples. This symposium contains two experiments that aimed at teaching children with autism skills relevant to the repertoires labeled as executive function by the general psychology community. One study sought to teach children with autism a basic problem-solving skill, identifying when there is and is not a problem. The second study taught children with autism to engage in private coping strategies during situations in which they are usually highly inflexible. The symposium concludes with a discussion by Dr. Bill Potter, a leading scholar in behavioral conceptual analyses of complex human behavior.

Keyword(s): Autism, Behavioral rigidity, Executive function, Problem solving

Increasing Flexibility in Children with Autism by Teaching Self-Management "Coping" Skills

JENNIFER RANICK (Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD)), Angela M. Persicke (Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD)), Jonathan J. Tarbox (Autism Research Group, Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD)), Megan St. Clair (Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD))

Individuals with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) commonly experience an insistence on sameness or resistance to environmental change, especially change of specific daily routines. This rigid behavioral repertoire often results in challenging behaviors that often places limitations on the lives of the individual and his or her family. This study targeted increasing behavioral flexibility with three participants with ASD. A multiple exemplar training procedure was implemented in which various emotional self-management coping strategies were taught along with a Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behaviors (DRA) procedure across repeated exposure to situations for which participants were particularly inflexible. The intervention was effective in the reduction of challenging behaviors as well as increasing self-management coping skills. In addition, indirect data were collected on affect and improvements in affect were generally noted post-intervention.

Teaching Learners with Autism a Component Skill of Problem Solving
CHRISTOPHER A. TULLIS (Ball State University), Kenneth Wehrheim (Ball State University), Susan Wilczynski (Ball State University), David McIntosh (Ball State University)
Abstract: Learners with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) typically present with difficulties in a broad set of skills termed “Executive Function”. One area of this relatively broad and relatively loosely defined construct is problem solving. Previous studies have demonstrated method of teaching individuals with developmental disabilities to solve common problems, but some key aspects may be lacking. Specifically, previous studies did not explicitly teach when a specific environmental arrangement was and was not a “problem”. In the current study, three boys with ASD were taught to discriminate problem situations from non-problem situations in pictures using a multiple-exemplar teaching procedure. The procedure was effective in teaching all three participants to discriminate problem situations, and one participant demonstrated generalization of this skill to an untaught set of stimuli.



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