International Meeting for Autism Research: The Effects of the Pace of Instruction During Structured Teaching with Children Diagnosed with Autism

The Effects of the Pace of Instruction During Structured Teaching with Children Diagnosed with Autism

Thursday, May 12, 2011
Elizabeth Ballroom E-F and Lirenta Foyer Level 2 (Manchester Grand Hyatt)
9:00 AM
M. D. Adams, C. N. Bowen, A. L. Valentino and M. A. Shillingsburg, Marcus Autism Center, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, & Emory School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA
Background: Discrete trial teaching is often used to improve language skills for children diagnosed with autism. Although there is research to support the use of DTT, there is little research on specific parameters of this kind of teaching.  Important variables to consider are those that result in efficient teaching sessions with minimal problem behavior. Literature suggests that manipulation of the Inter-trial Interval (ITI) or pace of instruction may be an important variable of a teaching session.  Research has shown that faster paced instruction has been effective in increasing rates of acquisition and reducing problem behavior in individuals with learning disabilities and off-task behavior, however, little is known about the effects of fast or slow paced instruction when teaching children with autism.

Objectives: The objective of the current study was to examine the effects of the pace of instruction during a structured teaching session on rates of problem behavior in children with autism and related disabilities. Furthermore, the current investigation examined the influence of rate of reinforcement during fast and slow paced instruction.

Methods: Five children diagnosed with developmental delays (three of which had a formal autism diagnosis) served as participants in the study. Sessions were conducted in five minute blocks during instruction. The pace of instruction was systematically controlled and included a fast paced condition (1 sec ITI) and a slow paced condition (5 sec ITI).  In order to control for the effects of the rate of reinforcement, which would presumably be higher in the fast paced condition, a condition consisting of slow paced instruction with a rate of reinforcement yoked to the fast paced instruction condition was also included.  In each condition, mastered targets were presented with either a 1 s or 5 s ITI.  The dependent variable was problem behavior, which was individually defined for eah participant but included aggression, disruption, and elopement. The effects of pace of instruction on problem behavior were assessed using a reversal and multi-element experimental design.

Results: Outcomes indicated that fast paced instruction resulted in lower levels of problem behavior for two participants and yielded no difference in levels of problem behavior between the fast, slow, and yoked conditions for three participants. Results are discussed in terms of selecting the optimal inter-trial interval for teaching children with autism.

Conclusions: In conclusion, inter-trial intervals during discrete instruction may reduce the opportunity for problem behavior to occur, which may facilitate learning for some children. The fact that some children are sensitive to inter-trial intervals makes it important to assess the effects of pace of instruction on problem behavior for individuals involved in discrete trial teaching prior to beginning teaching in this format.

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