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 #39
CE Offered: BACB
Infants and Children at Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder: Procedures for Establishing Early Social Skills
Sunday, May 29, 2016
10:00 AM–11:50 AM
Crystal Ballroom A, Hyatt Regency, Green West
Area: DEV/AUT; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Martha Pelaez (Florida International University)
Discussant: Martha Pelaez (Florida International University)
CE Instructor: Katerina Monlux, Ph.D.

We have initiated a programmatic line of research to apply and adapt the existing procedures to treating very young children who are at risk for developing autism or other developmental problems. Infant engagement responses such as vocalizations, eye contact, joint attention, and social referencing are critical developmental milestones that serve as prerequisites for early communication and social skills (Pelaez, 2009). The purpose of this symposium is to identify the early behavioral indicators of at-risk infants and to report operant-learning procedures shown to be successful in establishing early social-learning repertoires. The first presentation analyzes previous research on behavioral procedures used to establish infant eye contact using a synchronized reinforcement procedure. The second presentation reviews existing research on procedures using adult vocal imitation and motherese speech for improving early infant vocalizations in young children. The third presentation examines the establishment of joint-attention and social referencing via the operant-learning paradigm in infants and toddlers with developmental deficits. The fourth presentation will apply the behavioral systems approach (Novak & Pelaez, 2004) to the development of autism. Early behavioral interactional deficits in the development of autism will be identified. In sum, ongoing programs of research will be discussed.

Instruction Level: Basic
Keyword(s): Behavioral Systems, Eye Contact, Joint Attention, Social Referencing

Using Synchronized Reinforcement Procedure to Increase Eye Contact in Infants at Risk of Developmental Disorders

JACQUELINE MERY (California State University, Northridge), Martha Pelaez (Florida International University), Jonathan J. Tarbox (FirstSteps for Kids), Hayley Neimy (Shabani Institute - Center for Behavior Analysis & Language Development), Katerina Monlux (California State University, Northridge)

Parents can successfully increase infant engagement behaviors such as eye contact and positive affect with young children at risk of developmental disorders. This reviews and discusses a synchronized reinforcement procedure, described by Pelaez and colleagues (1996), to strengthen infant eye contact. The procedure includes brief parental training where mothers are taught to contingently provide behaviors such as smiling, verbal praise, and rhythmic touch to reinforce infant eye contact in the natural environment. Establishing eye contact in young children may aid in the development of foundational skills required to build nonverbal and social communicative behaviors. The presentation stresses the importance of contingent mother and child interactions.

Promoting Vocalizations in Infants and Toddlers Using Vocal Imitation and Motherese Speech
HAYLEY NEIMY (Shabani Institute - Center for Behavior Analysis & Language Development), Martha Pelaez (Florida International University), Jonathan J. Tarbox (FirstSteps for Kids), Katerina Monlux (California State University, Northridge), Jacqueline Mery (California State University, Northridge)
Abstract: Emission of vocalizations during infancy serves as the preverbal foundation towards the development of subsequent functional language skills in childhood (Novak & Pelaez, 2004). To help facilitate the acquisition of these engagement skills, research has found that contingent maternal vocal imitation and motherese speech can be used to increase the rate of infant vocalizations (Pelaez et al., 2011). This presentation reviews and analyzes previous literature on the use of both contingent and noncontingent vocal imitation and motherese speech on increasing the rate of infant vocalizations among at risk infants through a parent-training model. The procedure includes parent-training where caregivers are taught to vocally imitate the sounds of their infants or provide motherese speech in both a contingent and noncontingent reinforcement paradigm. Promoting pre-verbal vocalizations may help facilitate the development of subsequent verbal vocalizations among at risk infants, and potentially prevent the onset of language delays and disorders throughout later development.
Establishing Joint Attention and Social Referencing via Operant Learning Paradigm
KATERINA MONLUX (California State University, Northridge), Martha Pelaez (Florida International University), Jonathan J. Tarbox (FirstSteps for Kids), Jacqueline Mery (California State University, Northridge), Hayley Neimy (Shabani Institute - Center for Behavior Analysis & Language Development), Nadya Ariano (Florida International University)
Abstract: Lack of social engagement skills is one of the defining features and foundational deficits among children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Common social skills deficits include joint attention and social referencing and these deficits may be rectified through specific behavioral techniques and brief parent-infant engagement training models. This presentation reviews and critiques previously published procedures for training of joint attention and social referencing modeled after Pelaez and colleagues’ (2012) paradigm. Further, a model for expanding on their findings by evaluating the development of social referencing using maternal expressions in the natural environment is proposed. Targeting specific social skills in the natural environment could potentially prevent the development of later onset behavior and language disorders commonly associated with ASD.

CANCELED: A Behavioral Systems Approach Applied to Understanding Early Symptoms of Autism

MONIKA M. SUCHOWIERSKA-STEPHANY (University of Social Sciences and Humanities)

For behavior analysts, it is obvious that autism should not be treated as an internal disorder that causes a child to behave in a certain way. Rather, we look at it as a label describing the childs many behaviors. Taking into consideration a behavioral systems approach autism is perceived as organized patterns of characteristic behaviors that are shaped by multiple environmental factors in reciprocal interaction. The concept of equifinality, coalescent organization of biological and learned characteristics as well as behavioral cusps will be discussed with regards to autism. Due to a very important place of early intervention for children with autism, the presentation will focus on early mother-infant non-vocal and vocal communication that forms the basis for such core skills as joint attention, social referencing and relational responding.




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