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 #415
CE Offered: BACB
Applying Relational Frame Theory to Autism Treatment: Theory and Data
Monday, May 26, 2014
2:00 PM–3:50 PM
W185a (McCormick Place Convention Center)
Area: VRB/AUT; Domain: Theory
Chair: Caleb Stanley (The University of Mississippi)
Discussant: Marianne L. Jackson (California State University, Fresno)
CE Instructor: Thomas G. Szabo, Ph.D.

Relational frame theory (RFT) offers a promising conceptual framework for the study of human language, cognition and emotion. Recent empirical work has supported the utility of applying RFT to the treatment of individuals with diagnoses on the autism spectrum. This symposium highlights recent innovations in this area by presenting both conceptual and data based work. The first paper explores the current relational responding literature, especially as it pertains to applications of RFT for training in clinical settings. The second paper presents a conceptual analysis of empathy based in RFT, with a particular emphasis on training procedures to promote emotional responding. The third paper presents data from an RFT based emotion recognition training procedure for children on the autism spectrum. The final paper explores an RFT account of interdisciplinary case coordination. These topics will be discussed with an overarching emphasis of how RFT can enhance treatment approaches to autism spectrum disorders.

Keyword(s): autism, empathy, relational responding, RFT

An RFT Account of Interdisciplinary Case Coordination: Building the Value of ABA Currency

THOMAS G. SZABO (Easter Seals Southern California)

Behavior analysts work in interdisciplinary teams within school and clinic settings. Sometimes, team members from different disciplines attempt to use our technical terms and make unwitting mistakes that we rapidly step in to correct. At other times, we use technical terms and fail to explain them adequately. As a further complication, we are sometimes quick to offer counterintuitive behavioral interpretations. For example, a conversation about the causes of a child’s elopement may evoke our explaining that feelings are behaviors and that it is circular to explain behavior by appealing to other behaviors (e.g., John elopes because he feels bored in class). Responses such as these, though well meaning, leave behavior analysts holding devalued currency in teams where our input is needed. Relational Frame Theory predicts these outcomes. Further, the analysis of brief, immediate relational responses in contrast to those that are extended and elaborated over time suggests the way in which a small number of missteps can lead to long term negative consequences, such as being ignored during interdisciplinary meetings. In this paper, we present a conceptual analysis of team meeting dynamics that can be turned in a different direction, using predictions and prescriptions emerging from the applied RFT literature.


How to Get From Here to There: Best Practices for Teaching Relational Concepts to Individuals with Autism

ALYSSA N. WILSON (Saint Louis University), Stacey White (Saint Louis University)

Relational Frame Theory holds that arbitrarily applicable responding should emerge following discrimination training. However, research on how to arrange training environments to evoke relational responding is limited. Most relational responding research with individuals with Autism has focused on sameness, opposition, and comparative frames, with new identification on perspective taking and temporal relations. While initial research supports the utility of RFT for this population, there has yet to be a clear and well-defined approach to using these procedures in clinical practice. For example, current research trends suggest that teaching relational responding to individuals with limited verbal repertories should include multiple exemplars only if they fail to demonstrate derived relations following discrimination training. Unfortunately, clinicians and their clients do not have the time or economic budgets to retrain unlearned or non-derived responses. Therefore, the current presentation will outline the relational responding literature, highlighting the limitations and lack of clarity on how to adequately train relational responding in clinical settings. Furthermore, best practices as identified from the field will be presented in a way to inform clinicians on how to use RFT in any practical setting. Implications for bridging the gap between basic science and clinical practice will also be discussed.


A Relational Frame Theory Conceptual Analysis of Empathy and how it Might be Trainable in Children with Autism

JONATHAN J. TARBOX (Autism Research Group, Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD)), Angela M. Persicke (Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD)), Adel C. Najdowski (Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD)), Evelyn R. Gould (Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD))

When one person witnesses a second person experience an emotion, the first person is said to have empathy for the second person to the extent to which he/she responds by experiencing the same emotion. Empathy is generally acknowledged as critical to healthy and peaceful human communities and yet there appears to be a shortage of empathy in human society generally. Children with autism may be one population for whom empathy may be challenging, possibly due to deficits in perspective taking skills. However, even when one person can take the perspective of another verbally, they may not respond emotionally. In lay terms, one can understand another's emotions and not care. Existing research suggests the verbal part of this interaction can be successfully trained but little to no research has attempted to establish the caring part. This paper presents a Relational Frame Theory (RFT) conceptual analysis of the functional relations involved in empathy, consisting of derived relational responding, and transformation of stimulus function with respect to emotional responding in particular. The potential utility of an RFT account is that it points directly to procedures that can be practically implemented and tested.


Training Emotion Recognition in Children on the Autism Spectrum Using Derived Relational Responding

KERRY C. WHITEMAN (University of Mississippi), Kate Kellum (University of Mississippi), Kelly G. Wilson (University of Mississippi), Michael Bordieri (University of Mississippi Medical Center)

This study explored a new behavioral intervention based on relational frame theory for training emotion recognition skills in children on the autism spectrum. Previous research on emotion recognition interventions for this population has demonstrated limited generalization of trained skills to novel emotion stimuli. The application of relational frame theory to interventions has been shown to be an efficient and effective way of producing generalized behaviors in both typically developing and developmentally delayed populations. Using a concurrent multiple probe design across participants, this study investigated whether the incorporation of derived relational responding into emotion recognition training for children on the autism spectrum can address some of the limitations of other approaches. Semi-structured interviews were used with parents to identify specific emotions that high-functioning children on the autism spectrum had difficulty labeling. Obtained findings identified the following emotions as areas of difficulty: bored, confused, frustrated & worried. Results of the training will be presented, and implications for future development in this area will be explored.




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