Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


47th Annual Convention; Online; 2021

All times listed are Eastern time (GMT-4 at the time of the convention in May).

Event Details

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Symposium #65
CE Offered: BACB
Automatic or Undifferentiated Functional Analysis Results for Individuals With Challenging Behavior: Expanding Our Understanding and Effectiveness
Saturday, May 29, 2021
11:00 AM–12:50 PM
Area: DDA/AUT; Domain: Translational
Chair: David R Donnelly (In Private Practice; Webster University)
Discussant: David R Donnelly (In Private Practice)
CE Instructor: David R Donnelly, Ph.D.

Since first published (Iwata et al., 1982), the process of Functional Analysis (FA) has profoundly changed the process and effectiveness of Applied Behavior Analytical (ABA) treatment for individuals with challenging behaviors. Across ages and diagnoses, ABA has provided empirically validated evidence based treatment for behaviors maintained by attention, escape from demand, or tangibles. Yet in the years that have followed, the identification of automatic (assumed to be sensory) or undifferentiated findings has not kept pace, and this has left Behavior Analysts without a clear approach to treatment. This often results in needing to rely on default technologies that are often controversial, and less effective. In this symposium, we will discuss the potential significance of medical issues on understanding the individual’s idiosyncratic function(s) of behavior; Looking at neuro-biological variables as potential motivating operations in further clarification of the function(s) of behavior; and working toward awareness of environmentally mediated variables informed by fine grained analysis of automatic reinforcement maintaining the behavior. Practical suggestions regarding more effective practice and research to address challenging behavior will be included.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): ASD/DD, Biological MOs, Undifferentiated/Automatic FA
Target Audience:

This symposium is intended for intermediate behavior analysts engaged in research and application of applied behavior analysis in treatment of challenging behaviors.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of this symposium, participants will be able to: 1) Identify potential biological influences/motivating operations in the assessment and treatment of challenging behavior 2) identify biological measurement associated with anxiety, and evidence of habituation; 3) Demonstrate awareness of the application of Matching Law in the treatment of automatically reinforced behavior
Toward a Biological Analysis of Automatic Functions of Challenging Behavior
ELIZABETH ANDRESEN (Autism Learning Partners), David R Donnelly (In Private Practice; Webster University)
Abstract: The field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has greatly progressed since Iwata and colleagues (1982/1994) established a method to analyze and understand challenging behavior with the standard functional analysis (FA). However, behavior analysts continue to face difficulty when analyzing and treating complex behaviors; particularly self-injurious behavior (SIB) maintained by automatic reinforcement. Automatic reinforcement as we know it is defined by the absence of social reinforcement; however, does this really indicate full understanding? Recent data suggest that treatment for automatic reinforcement, especially when indicated by an undifferentiated FA pattern, is significantly less effective than treatments for socially mediated behaviors (Hagopian, Rooker, & Zarcone, 2015). Additionally, despite a significant literature base supporting biological components of these complex behaviors, little research has been done in this area since the late 20th century, and little has been incorporated into functional analysis methodologies. This presentation will serve as a critical review of the literature analyzing behaviors maintained by automatic reinforcement, indicated through functional analysis, citing data from behavior analytic and neurobiological journals. All in all, this presentation will strongly suggest a synthesis of biological and environmental variables when analyzing behavior to promote the most effective treatment.

Automatic Reinforcement and Anxiety: Measuring Physiological Responses

(Applied Research)
SHAWN E. HAPPE (Harmony Behavioral Health)

Nearly 40% of individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have at least one comorbid anxiety disorder (van Steensel, 2011). Behaviors associated with anxiety have shown greater differences in heart rate range (Chock & Koesler, 2013). Additionally, some individuals with ASD manifest hyper- or hypo-reactivity to sensory input (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition [DSM-V], 2013). Due to this, physiological measures that require contact with the skin may present problems for individuals with atypical responses to tactile stimulation. In order to address this concern, a habituation protocol was used to assess participants’ tolerance to wearing a vest for the collection of physiological measures. Specifically, a repeated presentation procedure was conducted to decrease possible sensitivity to a vest (Thompson & Spencer, 1966). The results indicated that all six participants in this study successfully completed the habituation protocol and none required a lengthy fade in protocol for wearing the vest. Based on these results, apparatus using these types of physiological measures are feasible for conducting research. These findings should encourage other researchers interested in assessing physiological responses in individuals with possible sensory sensitivities.


Physiological Measures and Matching Treatment: Examining the Relationship Between Physiological Responses and Challenging Behaviors

(Applied Research)
NANCY I. SALINAS (Harmony Behavioral Health)

The diagnostic severity of ASD is partly based on restrictive and repetitive patterns of behaviors, interests, and activities (APA, 2013). Automatic reinforcement function accounts for 16.9% of restrictive and repetitive behaviors and 25% of self-injurious behaviors (SIB) based on functional analyses (Beavers, Iwata, and Lerman, 2013; Hagopian, 2015). The types of behaviors within this category include 1) stereotyped or restrictive motor movements or vocalizations, 2) insistence in sameness, inflexibilities with routines, ritualized vocal or non-vocal behavior, 3) highly restricted/fixated interests, and 4) hyper-/hypo- reactivity to sensory factors (APA, 2013; CDC, 2013). Due to the nature of automatically reinforced behaviors, it is recommended that physiological assessments be used to determine relationships between physiological events and behavior (Romanczyk and Gillis, 2006). Tools that are sensitive to biological activity may help to discern sources of automatic reinforcement. The current investigation is a continuation of the utilization of functional analysis, treatment analysis, and physiological measures to investigate the role that positive and negative automatic reinforcement play in the treatment of problem behaviors. The results show an association between non-socially mediated behaviors and physiological events and adds to the empirical basis for differentiating operant psychology principles for operant and respondent conditioning.

Rethinking Automatic Reinforcement: Matching Law Contribution to Developing Effective Treatment
ZHICHUN ZHOU (Webster University )
Abstract: The lack of immediate external socially-mediated consequences has led people to use cognitive structures or other mental processes in explaining complex behavior (e.g., self-injurious behavior, pica, rumination) observed in clinics, schools and/or homes. But how can behavior analysts not be compelled to accept hypothetical constructs as explanations? B.F. Skinner’s extensive use of automatic reinforcement and the perplexing undifferentiated result derived from functional analysis (FA) have provided good enough justifications for us to take a closer look at the concept of automatic reinforcement. Indeed, the concept of automatic reinforcement can provide us a parsimonious explanation to complex behavior. The current presentation discusses the parsimony featured in automatic reinforcement from an angle that has not yet been explored in the field of applied behavior analysis. That is, the matching law. More specifically, the presentation provides a nuanced understanding of the concept of matching law and explores how it can be integrated to the development of interventions for behavior that is maintained by automatic reinforcement. The presentation further examines how to program the schedule of socially-mediated reinforcement to compete and wane the effects of the schedule of automatic reinforcement produced by certain behavior.



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