Objectives: The purpose of this study was to assess whether motivational variables could be employed to improve performance in academic tasks. Specifically, we assessed whether these variables would improve writing and math performance, interest in academic activities, and decrease disruptive behavior.
Methods: Four children (4 to 7 years old) with ASD were selected for participation in this study. A non-concurrent multiple baseline across participants and behaviors design was used. During the intervention, the adult presented a writing or math activity and asked the child to complete the task in order to earn a child chosen reinforcer. Additionally, the adult provided choices of the materials that could be used and the choice of the setting where the task could be carried out. The reinforcer was embedded within the task to provide a natural reward, and easy tasks were interspersed with more difficult tasks. For example, in the writing intervention, the adult could offer a choice between writing implements (e.g., pen or pencil) and/or where to sit (e.g., floor or table). After the child made choices, the adult presented the demand paired with the contingency for natural reinforcement (e.g., “Write some sentences about playing outside, and after you’re done, you can play outside.”)
Results: For all participants, the latency to complete academic demands decreased following intervention and remained low during follow-up. Similarly, all participants had low rates of academic task completion during baseline but showed increases during intervention. Finally, each child engaged in high levels of disruptive behavior during all academic tasks in baseline and, following intervention, disruptive behavior decreased immediately and remained low through follow-up. Effect size (Cohen’s d) was calculated for all dependent measures for all children using the standard mean difference method. The results for all children on all academic tasks yielded large effect sizes.
Conclusions: Results indicated that the intervention decreased the children’s latency to begin academic tasks, improved their rate of performance and interest, and decreased their disruptive behavior. Theoretical and applied implications are discussed.