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

Previous Page


Symposium #285
CE Offered: BACB
Joint Attention, Social Referencing, and Empathy in Children With Autism
Monday, May 30, 2016
3:00 PM–3:50 PM
Grand Ballroom EF, Hyatt Regency, Gold East
Area: AUT/DEV; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Rebecca P. F. MacDonald (New England Center for Children)
CE Instructor: Rebecca P. F. MacDonald, Ph.D.

It is well established that individuals with autism spectrum disorders have deficits in joint attention and social referencing. Efforts to remediate these deficits have proven to be challenging as the source of difficulty has much to do the failure of social behaviors to function as motivation operations. In the current symposium we will present data from three lines of work in this area. In the first paper, Mary Roberts, explores the effects of using multiple exemplars to increase generalization and maintenance of joint attention. Using 36 different toys, many with a surprise element, children generalized these skills both within and across toy classes. In the second paper, Pamela Peterson, compares social orienting and social referencing performance between children with autism and typical peers in an attention to distress assessment. These data reveal that typical children orient and reference immediately while children with autism do not. In the third paper Elena Carcia-Albea examines procedures to teach children with autism to use appropriate empathetic responding. Using video priming, behavior rehearsal, and socially mediated consequences they successfully taught empathetic responding under the conditions of happiness, frustration, scared and sadness. In addition, empathetic responding generalized across novel stimuli.


Multiple Exemplar Training: Effects on Acquisition, Maintenance, and Generalization of Joint Attention Initiation

MARY ROBERTS (New England Center for Children), Elizabeth Sloan (New England Center for Children), Rebecca P. F. MacDonald (New England Center for Children)

The purpose of the present study was to examine the effects of multiple exemplar training on the acquisition, maintenance and generalization of initiating joint attention (IJA). Participants were 3 typically developing children and 4 children with autism spectrum disorder. A composite score was developed based on the performance of the typical samples and used to evaluate IJA of the children with autism. Gaze shifting and commenting were taught using social reinforcement in a multiple exemplar format where training sessions were followed by probes of untrained stimuli both within and across toy classes. Results showed that the children with autism learned to initiate joint attention using social reinforcers. Multiple exemplar training was also effective in facilitating acquisition within and across toy classes and the maintenance of IJA for 3 of the 4 participants. Additionally, stimulus control generalized to a second setting and a second experimenter for all participants. IOA was collected in 31% of all sessions and agreement across all sessions was 95.6%. These results demonstrate the efficacy of using multiple exemplar training on generalization and maintenance of joint attention.


Assessment and Treatment of Social Orienting and Social Referencing in Children With Autism

PAMELA PETERSON (New England Center for Children), Rebecca P. F. MacDonald (New England Center for Children)

Children with autism show a marked deficit in social skills, including both social orienting and social referencing responses. The purpose of this study was two-fold. First, to evaluate the differences across social orienting and social referencing responses between typically-developing toddlers and children with autism, and secondly to evaluate a treatment protocol for teaching orienting and referencing. An adaptation of the Sigman attention to distress assessment was used which included three conditions: hurt, choke, and spill. Results showed that typical peers had higher percent of both orienting and referencing compared to children with autism. Further analysis revealed differences in the quality of these responses including latency, duration, frequency, and affective behavior. One participant was taught to orient to an adult under a condition of distress (e.g., hurt) and then to reference a familiar adult following the orienting response. Findings indicated that the use of visual prompts and social reinforcers were effective in establishing social orienting and social referencing. Interobserver agreement were collected on30% of the sessions and ranged from 80% and 100% across all training and assessment conditions. Considerations for the generalization and maintenance of these skills are discussed.


Establishing a Generalized Repertoire of Empathetic Responding With Children With Autism

ELENA GARCIA-ALBEA (Caldwell College), Sharon A. Reeve (Caldwell University), Kenneth F. Reeve (Caldwell University), April N. Kisamore (Caldwell University), Linda A. LeBlanc (Trumpet Behavioral Health), Kevin J. Brothers (Somerset Hills Learning Institute)

Children who display appropriate concern and interest when others are sad, happy, scared, or frustrated will likely increase their opportunities for future interactions with peers. Some individuals with autism, however, exhibit severe deficits in empathy. In the current study, a video modeling priming procedure with audio and manual prompts, behavior rehearsals, and socially mediated consequences were used to teach four children with autism a generalized repertoire of empathetic responding. Four experimenter-defined categories (happiness, frustration, scared, and sadness) were used to program for generalization of empathetic responding from trained to novel compound discriminative stimuli. A multiple-probe across participants design was used to assess the effectiveness of the treatment package. Results indicated that the treatment package was effective in the rapid acquisition of empathetic responding. Empathetic responding generalized from trained stimuli to novel stimuli within categories used for teaching and across novel categories of empathy. Empathetic responding also maintained in the absence of the video model. Inter-observer agreement and procedural integrity data were collected on 50% of the sessions and ranged from 98%-100% across all conditions and participants. Results of this study demonstrate that behavior-analytic techniques are effective in improving complex social skills, such as empathy, in children with autism.




Back to Top
Modifed by Eddie Soh