Children with autism often display difficulty with repertoires commonly labeled as “perspective-taking” and “executive functions.” Perspective taking is said to consist of the ability to understand others’ mental states and to adjust one’s own social behavior accordingly. Executive function is a broad term which refers to a person’s ability to pay attention, remember, create a plan, execute a plan, and self-monitor progress toward goals. A radical behavioral perspective on these “cognitive” skills is that they are actions of an organism occurring in relation to environmental events. That is, they are learned behaviors and they therefore can be taught. Furthermore, Relational Frame Theory (RFT) provides a conceptual framework that is useful for identifying the behavior – environment relations that characterize these repertoires. Such conceptual analyses serve as useful roadmaps for designing interventions to teach these skills, as well as experiments to test the effectiveness of the interventions. Recent publications will be presented and practical guidelines will be described in these areas. Expanding applied behavior analysis into the topics of perspective-taking and executive function has the dual potential of helping individuals with autism learn critical social and self-management skills, as well as expanding behavior analysis into a more comprehensive science of human behavior.
Review Jonathan Tarbox’s biographical statement.