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.


42nd Annual Convention; Downtown Chicago, IL; 2016

Event Details

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Symposium #327
CE Offered: BACB
Evaluating Preference and Reinforcement in Individuals With Autism: Considerations for Lower-Functioning Learners
Monday, May 30, 2016
5:00 PM–5:50 PM
Columbus Hall IJ, Hyatt Regency, Gold East
Area: AUT/DDA; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Robert W. Isenhower (Rutgers University)
CE Instructor: Robert W. Isenhower, Ph.D.

Formal assessment of preference is a critical component of applied behavioral analytic intervention for learners with autism and developmental disabilities. Empirically determining individuals’ preferences can facilitate the identification of putative reinforcers and can increase the amount of control individuals have over their own therapeutic interventions. The current symposium will discuss empirical and methodological issues that surround the assessment of learner preference in individuals with autism with more profound intellectual and communicative impairments and choice-making difficulties. Specifically, this symposium will examine modifying single stimulus preference assessments to incorporate latency as an index of relative preference; comparing formal reinforcer assessments to determine which might be more appropriate for these learners; and incorporating learner preference to select the most appropriate communication modality for a learner to use. Attendees should garner a greater appreciation for the nuanced issues surrounding the assessment of learner preference in lower-functioning populations and should leave with concrete preference assessment strategies that can be incorporated into their own behavior analytic practice.

Keyword(s): Choice Analysis, Preference Assessments, Reinforcer Assessments

A Comparison of Two Assessments for Evaluating the Reinforcing Value of Tokens

ROBERT W. ISENHOWER (Rutgers University), Meredith Bamond (Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center, Rutgers University), Kate E. Fiske Massey (Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center, Rutgers University)

Progressive-ratio (PR) schedules of reinforcement have been used to evaluate the potency of a reinforcer using successively higher ratio requirements. Critics note that the procedure is lengthy and may be aversive for some individuals (e.g. Poling, 2010). Smaby et al. (2007) describe a reinforcer assessment that rapidly alternates between extinction and reinforcement conditions to compare rates of responding. The extent to which these two reinforcer assessments achieve commensurate results, and the comparative efficiency of each, is unknown. In the current study, three students with autism participated in a full analysis of tokens and primary reinforcement using both a PR schedule (Roane et al., 2001) and the rapid reinforcer assessment (Smaby et al., 2007). For all students, the PR analyses indicated that primary reinforcement produced the highest (or most stable) rates of responding and that tokens were variably reinforcing. In contrast, for two students the rapid reinforcer assessment indicated that tokens were nearly as effective as primary reinforcement in maintaining high response rates. For the third student, tokens appeared to have a suppressive effect on responding. The rapid assessment was significantly faster to conduct than the PR schedule. Implications for the use of reinforcer assessments in clinical practice will be discussed.

Using Latency to Increase the Utility of Single-Stimulus Preference Assessments
ERICA M. DASHOW (Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center, Rutgers University), Robert W. Isenhower (Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center, Rutgers University), Todd Frischmann (Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center, Rutgers University), Meredith Bamond (Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center, Rutgers University), Robert LaRue (Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center, Rutgers University)
Abstract: The development of formal preference assessments has been useful in identifying putative reinforcers for individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities. Standard preference assessment formats include single stimulus, paired stimuli, and multiple stimuli without replacement (MSWO). Paired stimuli and MSWO assessments present stimuli in an array, which allows for the creation of preference hierarchies. However, both formats are subject to position biases and may not be suitable for learners with choice-making difficulties. Furthermore, paired-stimuli assessments can be time consuming. Traditional single stimulus presentations overcome these design limitations, but may over identify preferred items and cannot establish preference hierarchies. Measurement of response latency from stimulus presentation to selection in single-stimulus assessments may be a viable way to assess preference. The current study compared latency-based single-stimulus assessments to both paired stimuli and MSWO preference assessments utilizing a touch screen computer monitor to measure latency. Results indicated that the latency-based preference assessment yielded high concurrent validity to other formal preference assessment methods. These findings have implications for assessing learner preference in individuals with motor skill deficits, position biases, and impairments in choice-making.

Effect of Response Effort on Preference for Communication Modality

SARAH JANE LUEM (Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center, Rutgers University), Robert LaRue (Rutgers University), Katelyn Selver (Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center, Rutgers University), Sarah Levine (Rutgers University), Kimberly Sloman (Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center, Rutgers University)

Autism spectrum disorders are characterized by deficits in communication. To address this issue, a number of different modes of communication have been developed (i.e., picture exchange, sign language, voice output communication aides (VOCAs)). Research has shown that the rates of acquisition of each modality and preference for modality may vary across individuals (e.g., van der Meer et al., 2012). For example, a student may acquire a picture exchange response to label items in fewer trials than sign language and may also show preference for the picture exchange response (i.e., engage in that response when given a choice of both responses). The purpose of the present study was to evaluate the effects of response effort on communication preference. Three participants were first taught to label pictures with vocal approximations and VOCAs (Proloquo to go). The pictures included one, two, and multi-syllable words. Data were collected on trials to acquisition for each modality. Then, a choice analysis was conducted in which participants were asked to label the picture with either communication modality. Preference for modality was idiosyncratic across participants and influenced by different variables (e.g., distance to AAC or word complexity).




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