Date of Award:

4-19-2012

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Special Education and Rehabilitation

Advisor/Chair:

Timothy A Slocum, Sarah E Bloom

Abstract

Everyone, including children with developmental disabilities, encounters stimuli they find aversive every day (e.g., the sound of a classmate tapping their pencil). These aversive stimuli may not be problematic for typically developing individuals, because they learn to behave in ways that allow them to escape or avoid this aversive stimulation. They could, for example, mand (i.e., request) for something to be changed in the environment (e.g., ask their classmates to stop tapping their pencils). A child with developmental disabilities, however, may not have the communication skills necessary to request the termination of aversive stimuli, which may result in frequent exposure to aversive situations. For these children, it may be useful to acquire a general mand (e.g., saying, "No, thank you") which could be used to avoid or terminate a variety of aversive stimuli. Previous researchers teaching mands for negative reinforcement have focused on replacing problem behavior maintained by escape from task demands. The current study extended the literature on teaching mands for negative reinforcement by teaching children with developmental disabilities to mand for escape from a variety of nonpreferred stimuli, while assessing generalization to untrained stimuli and settings. Participants were two school-aged boys with autism who engaged in problem behavior when they encountered nonpreferred stimuli, and did not use an appropriate mand for negative reinforcement. First, we employed a non-preferred stimulus assessment to identify stimuli for subsequent use in mand training. Next, we conducted mand training sequentially across nonpreferred stimuli until sufficient exemplars were trained for generalization to untrained stimuli to occur. Finally, we conducted probes to assess generalization of the mand response to nontraining contexts outside of the experimental setting. For both participants, training was required across two stimuli before cross-stimulus generalization was observed. Because generalization did not bring the mand to criterion levels with the third stimulus, for either participant, training was introduced to facilitate acquisition. The mand response was acquired with a fourth stimulus in the absence of training. Through the inclusion of appropriate control conditions, we showed that the stimulus control of the mand response was appropriate, occurring almost exclusively in the presence of nonpreferred stimuli. In addition, we showed decreases in problem behavior, for both participants, which corresponded to acquisition of the mand response. We also provided evidence of generalization to nontraining contexts. We discuss limitations of the current study and present suggestions for future research.

Comments

This work made publicly available electronically on July 31, 2012.

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