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.


48th Annual Convention; Boston, MA; 2022

Event Details

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Symposium #295
CE Offered: BACB
A Behavioral-Developmental Approach to Autism Assessment, Data Collection, Intervention, and Curriculum
Sunday, May 29, 2022
3:00 PM–3:50 PM
Meeting Level 2; Room 258B
Area: AUT/DEV; Domain: Theory
Chair: Michael Lamport Commons (Harvard Medical School)
CE Instructor: Michael Lamport Commons, Ph.D.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, nonverbal communication, and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people. They may, however, communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. Because there is no definitive medical test, diagnosing ASD can be difficult. Research has shown that intervention can improve a child’s overall development and the earlier it occurs, the more effective it may be. In this symposium, we introduce a diagnostic tool designed to improve a very early diagnosis of autism. The tool is informed by extensive research on the Model of Hierarchical Complexity, a behavioral developmental model of tasks. The Model allows for the scaling of behaviors, tasks, reinforcers, stimuli, etc. in terms of their Hierarchical Complexity, a form of difficulty. This kind of scaling explains developmental sequences. The symposium first describes the Behavioral Developmental Autism Instrument, including how it was devised, how the data is being collected, and comparison to other assessments. The second paper illustrates how the Model of Hierarchical Complexity can be used to generate a developmental sequence of reinforcers. The third paper applies the model to curriculum development.

Instruction Level: Basic
Keyword(s): Early diagnosis, Early intervention
Target Audience:

People who are interested in knowing more about how a Developmental approach can be added to a Behavior Analytic Approach, including how to find out with what behavior(s) to begin an intervention, what behavioral stage a child is behaving at, how to select developmentally appropriate reinforcers and other related topics.

Learning Objectives: Participants will be able to: (1) assess children from infancy on up in terms of 12 domains of behavior (2) develop an intervention based on behavioral developmental criteria, including how to select developmentally appropriate reinforcers; (3) implement two aspects of interventions: what behaviors need intervention and how to more successfully carry out the interventions.
Behavioral Developmental Autism Instrument
PATRICE MARIE MILLER (Salem State University)
Abstract: The purpose of the study was to generate a behavioral-developmental instrument and see how well it predicted performance in participants diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Some items were created from our experience with children with an ASD diagnosis, some based on experience with the development with “normal” children. Some items were adapted from existing developmental scales. Each item consists of a task that the child is asked to perform. It starts with behaviors that occur in very early infancy. Currently, several organizations are testing the instrument and are providing feedback. The aim is to allow for possible earlier diagnoses of autism and also to provide a basis for intervention. The items in the instrument are developmentally ordered, based on the Model of Hierarchical Complexity. If a child is shown to successfully perform these items, the instrument moves to more complex items. Because it assesses specific behaviors it is easier to use, providing face valid results. A brief comparison of this assessment to two others that are commonly used will be included.

Testing of an Instrument Measuring Reinforcer Preferences in Children

PATRICE MARIE MILLER (Salem State University)

Operant conditioning procedures are used to investigate various developmental emotional and socialization processes (e.g., Gewirtz & Pelaez-Nogueras, 1992). The choice of what reinforcers to use has been conducted in somewhat of an ad hoc manner. This presentation introduces a way to scale reinforcers in terms of their likely effectiveness for children at different behavioral stages of development. Reinforcers are scaled in terms of their complexity using the Model of Hierarchical Complexity. This model applies a mathematically based scale to different tasks and behaviors (including reinforcing events). A brief example would be that for some children perhaps only a food-based reinforcer would work. For another saying “Good job” would work. Testing this model, we have generated an ordered list of reinforcers. This can be used with individual children to ascertain which specific reinforcers are effective for each particular child. Ultimately it will provide a list of a large number of reinforcing events that may be effective when working with a wide range of children. We are in the process of testing it out and are looking for collaborators who can help us shortlist the reinforcers.

Mapping a Teaching Curriculum Based on the Autism Developmental Instrument
MICHAEL LAMPORT COMMONS (Harvard Medical School)
Abstract: A teaching curriculum is described that is based on the Behavioral Developmental Autism Instrument. Each item in the instrument is both a behavior that is assessed and behavior that can then be trained if the child does not pass the item. Children with developmental delays or with Autism Spectrum disorders are trained bottom up, starting with items of less difficulty and moving to those with higher difficulty. Currently, there are 121 items in the curriculum. Creating teaching curricula from the instrument will facilitate interventions since the child will be placed at the right level of difficulty to learn. That is, the item will not be too easy and will also not be too difficult. More items may also be added at each level of difficulty (called the Order of Hierarchical Complexity of the task). This curriculum can be beneficial for both typically developing children and children with developmental disabilities across a variety of cultural settings.



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