|Behavioral Intervention for "Executive Function" in Children With Autism
|Tuesday, June 1, 2010
|9:00 AM–10:20 AM
|Area: AUT/TPC; Domain: Applied Behavior Analysis
|Chair: Jonathan J. Tarbox (Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc.)
|Discussant: Nicholas M. Berens (University of Nevada, Reno)
|CE Instructor: Gerald Harris, Ph.D.
|Abstract: Behavior analysis was intended as a comprehensive science of psychology, since its inception (Skinner, 1938, 1945). All actions of organisms are putatively included as the subject matter of behavior analysis, but much of complex human behavior remains virtually untouched. One such area is “executive function.” Executive function is a term with many non-scientific and mentalistic meanings and generally refers to invented mental or neural hypothetical constructs, such as attention, “working memory,” planning, self-monitoring, and inhibition. However, to the extent that these constructs refer situations which include the behavior of organisms, these behaviors fall within the purview of behavior analysis and the behaviors must be accounted for in terms of behavior/environment relations, not hypothetical constructs. This symposium presents four papers that address “executive function” in children with autism. The first paper is an introduction to the symposium and lays the conceptual and practical groundwork for how “executive functions” may be addressed behaviorally. The subsequent three presentations describe results of three experiments across three participants each, each addressing different behaviors labeled as “working memory” by the general psychology community. All three experiments produced generalization. These studies represent a programmatic line of research examining whether behavioral procedures can affect performance on tasks which the general community refers to as “executive function.” This line of research is the first substantial application of behavioral intervention procedures to “executive function” deficits in autism. The results further reinforce the notion that supposed “executive function” involves behavioral repertoires which are subject to control and improvement by environmental manipulations.
|The Practical and Conceptual Groundwork for Addressing Executive Function Deficits in Autism From a Purely Behavior Analytic Perspective
|JONATHAN J. TARBOX (Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc.), Dennis Dixon (Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc.), Doreen Granpeesheh (Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc.)
|Abstract: A significant amount of research has documented executive function deficits in individuals with autism and other disorders. Executive function is a term that has many non-scientific and mentalistic meanings and generally refers to invented mental or neural hypothetical explanatory fictions, such as attention, “working memory,” planning, self-monitoring, and inhibition. However, in tasks that putatively measure executive function, the person in question is indeed doing something in response to events in the environment. That is, while the explanatory constructs of executive function are all but fiction, people do indeed engage in behaviors which are labeled by the general psychology community as “executive function,” and these behaviors are often critical to a person’s ability to succeed in their daily lives. Children with autism are no exception and a significant amount of research has documented that children with autism often have deficits in these skills. This presentation describes a conceptual and practical groundwork upon which to address these deficits. Supposed executive function deficits must be analyzed in terms of the behaviors occurring, the environmental antecedents and consequences present, and the resulting implications for treatment. This presentation gives an overview of how to do this generally, and serves to set up the subsequent two presentations which describe experiments using this approach.
|Teaching Children With Autism a Vocal Rehearsal Strategy for Improving Performance on a “Working Memory” Motor Task
|Emily Barnoy (Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc.), Adel C. Najdowski (Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc.), Jonathan J. Tarbox (Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc.), RYAN BERGSTROM (Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc.)
|Abstract: Emitting sequences of motor behavior in response to vocal instructions is often examined in “working memory” tasks. This study improved performance on a “working memory” task that involves the teacher stating a sequence of motor behaviors and the student then emitting those behaviors in backwards order. The intervention procedure used modeling and reinforcement to teach a vocal rehearsal repertoire, resulting in improved performance on the “working memory” task for all participants. Three children with autism participated in the study and a multiple baseline design across participants was used to evaluate experimental control. Generalization to novel actions and action sequences was obtained. Interobserver agreement was assessed across more than 20% of sessions and averaged higher than 80%. Implications for a behavioral analysis of executive functions are discussed.
|Improving Performance on a “Working Memory” Tasks Involving Naming, Categorization, and Counting in Children With Autism
|LISA BALTRUSCHAT (Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc.), Hasselhorn Marcus (Goethe-Universitaet Frankfurt), Jonathan J. Tarbox (Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc.)
|Abstract: This study consists of two experiments that examined whether behavioral teaching procedures could affect performance on tasks that are said to measure the “working memory” in children with autism. In the first task, children were presented with a sequence of visual stimuli and for each stimulus, were asked to emit a classification response according to the function of the object (e.g., “Can you eat it?”). At the end of the sequence of stimuli, the children were then asked to state the names of the stimuli in the order in which they were presented. In the second experiment, the task involved the presentation of a series of visual stimuli consisting of quantities of shapes. Participants were required to count and state aloud the quantity when each stimulus was presented. When the sequence was complete, the task required participants to state the quantities counted earlier, in the order they were counted. In both experiments, the multiople exemplar training intervention procedure progressed from simpler to more complex by starting with only positive reinforcement for correct responding and then progressing to prompting and reinforcement of a rehearsal behavior, if needed. A multiple baseline across three children with autism was conducted in each experiment. Large improvements in performance were obtained for all participants, as was maintenance and generalization to untrained stimuli and untrained responses. Interobserver agreement was assessed for more than 30% of sessions and averaged higher than 85%. Results suggest that basic behavioral intervention procedures can be successful in improving performance on complex behaviors labeled as “working memory” by the general community.