International Meeting for Autism Research: Improving Play Skills and Decreasing Challenging Behavior by Reducing the Reinforcing Value of Stereotypy in Young Children with ASD

Improving Play Skills and Decreasing Challenging Behavior by Reducing the Reinforcing Value of Stereotypy in Young Children with ASD

Thursday, May 20, 2010
Franklin Hall B Level 4 (Philadelphia Marriott Downtown)
10:00 AM
R. Lang , Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA
Background: Children with ASD often experience substantial delays in the development of play behavior. Interventions to teach play skills are often complicated by challenging behavior and stereotypy. Previous research has demonstrated a potential relationship between stereotypy, challenging behavior and play in children with ASD. However, few research-based methods for addressing stereotypy and challenging during play interventions are available to practitioners. An abolishing operation is any stimuli or series of events that reduces the value of a particular reinforcer. If an individual has unrestricted access to a particular reinforcer for an extended period of time that stimuli may eventually lose its reinforcing value. Incorporation of the abolishing operation concept into play interventions may allow practitioners to effectively reduce the reinforcing value of stereotypy prior to beginning a play intervention. If the reinforcing value of stereotypy is reduced, then the child may engage in less stereotypy and less challenging behavior when stereotypy is interrupted.

Objectives: The purpose of this study was to reduce stereotypy and challenging behavior during a play intervention for five children with autism by adding an abolishing operation component to a common research-based procedure for teaching play skills.

Methods: The effects of two conditions were compared in an alternating treatment design. In one condition (abolishing operation condition) the child is allowed to engage in stereotypy freely prior to the implementation of an intervention targeting play skills.This free period lasted until the child engaged in a predetermined rejecting topography. Occurrence of the rejecting topography suggested the child was in a state of satiation in terms of the automatic reinforcement produced by the stereotypy. In the second condition the same play intervention was implemented without the prior free play period. The levels of functional play, symbolic play, stereotypy, and challenging behavior were compared across these two conditions.

Results: Data show decreased levels of stereotypy and challenging behavior and increased levels of functional play following the abolishing operation condition. Symbolic play did not occur following either condition.

Conclusions: When designing an intervention to teach functional play to a child with autism who engages in stereotypy, this data set suggests two points. First, modeling, prompting with contingent reinforcement, and naturalistic instruction are potential effective intervention components. Second, it may be beneficial to allow the child to engage in stereotypy freely for a period of time prior to intervention. Two implications concerning stereotypy arise from this data set. First, for four of the five participants, stereotypy decreased as functional play increased. This data set provides evidence of a negatively correlated relationship between stereotypy and play skills. The possible existence of such a relationship suggests that one method for effectively treating stereotypy may be to teach children to play. Second, it is possible that allowing a child to engage in stereotypy freely prior to providing instruction in play skills (as was done in the AOC condition) may decrease the level of stereotypy during subsequent play instruction. This, in turn, may make it easer to engage the child and prompt functional play during the intervention session

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