International Meeting for Autism Research: Teaching Children with Autism to Seek Information by Asking Questions

Teaching Children with Autism to Seek Information by Asking Questions

Thursday, May 12, 2011
Elizabeth Ballroom E-F and Lirenta Foyer Level 2 (Manchester Grand Hyatt)
10:00 AM
D. E. Conine, 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: A common problem for children with autism is the lack of asking questions (Koegel, 1996). Requesting information is typically emitted as a “wh” question such as who?, what?, when?, where?, or which?  Requesting information is useful because it allows an individual to obtain important, unknown information from the environment, which may result in increased social interaction and expansion of the overall language repertoire. Children with autism often require specific teaching to learn to request information. Some studies have demonstrated effective procedures to teach requests for information (Sundberg, Loeb, Hale, & Eigenheer, 2002).  However, the research is limited regarding types of questions taught and the specific procedures that result in the most functional use of the skill outside of teaching sessions. 

Objectives: Strategies for teaching request forms other than “what?,” “where?,” and “who?” to children with autism have not yet been studied. Additionally, assessing and programming for the motivational variables that lead to correct, functional use of requests for information have not been fully demonstrated. Therefore, the objective of the current study was to examine procedures to teach the request for information “which?” and other previously examined request forms (i.e., “who?”).

Methods: A six-year-old male with autism participated. To teach the requests “which?” and “who?”, scenarios were arranged to contrive a motivation for the needed information.  During “which” scenarios, 10 opaque cups were numbered and placed in sight. When the participant asked for a snack, the instructor indicated that his snack was in one of the cups. During “who” scenarios, several of his therapists were present. When he asked for a snack, the instructor indicated that one of his therapists had his snack.  In both scenarios the information regarding which cup or which therapist was withheld.  In order to promote discrimination of when information is needed, these sessions were interspersed with sessions in which the information regarding the location of the snack was already given.  Both “who” and “which” were taught simultaneously using a time delay procedure and a vocal prompt of the correct request. The two requests were alternated to assess correct discrimination of the two request forms. Generalization probes were conducted to assess requests for information in untargeted situations.

Results: During Baseline, the participant did not request information using “who?” or “which?”. The participant acquired both requests for information during teaching.  Additionally, results showed that he was able to discriminate when information was needed versus when it was already provided, was able to use each request form under the appropriate conditions, and also successfully used the information that was provided to access his snack.  Lastly, generalization probes demonstrated that he generalized the request for information “Which?” across four additional untaught situations. 

Conclusions: The procedures used in the current study were successful in teaching a child with autism to emit requests for information when the information was desired. The child was successful in using the two different requests appropriately and generalizing the requests to novel situations.

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