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