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.


49th Annual Convention; Denver, CO; 2023

Event Details

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Symposium #405
CE Offered: BACB
Private Events, Thoughts, and Feelings… Oh My! Making Private Behavior Public and Allowing Behavior Analysis Do Its Job
Monday, May 29, 2023
5:00 PM–5:50 PM
Convention Center Mile High Ballroom 4E/F
Area: AUT/BPN; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Alessandro Dibari (Fondazione Oltre le Parole Onlus)
Discussant: Carmen Lopez-Arvizu (Kennedy Krieger)
CE Instructor: Jessica Zawacki, Ph.D.

Following Skinner’s (1938) earliest attempts at operationalizing and developing a science of behavior, Behavior Analysts have continued to search for ways to extend and confirm what is ‘known’ about the principles of behavior (Ferster & Skinner, 1957). Despite all that we have learned over the last decade, practitioners still struggle to develop effective treatment plans when a functional analysis reveals that target behaviors are identified as functionally automatic. Furthermore, behaviors that are maintained by positive automatic reinforcement (e.g., self-stimulatory behavior) and negative automatic reinforcement (e.g., escape from aversive private stimuli) further complicate analysis and treatment. The term “private events” refers to any covert stimulus such as thinking, visualizing, or remembering (Skinner, 1974). In 1969, Skinner founded Radical Behaviorism which intended to expand the traditional concepts of observable behavior in stating “an adequate science of behavior must consider events taking place within the skin of the organism, not as physiological mediators of behavior, but as part of behavior itself. It can deal with these events without assuming they have any special nature or must be known in any special way. The skin is not that important as a boundary. Private and public events have the same kind of physical dimension” (p. 228). This concept remains controversial today since, from a behavior-analytic perspective, until an event has been systematically observed, it cannot be confirmed. Private events serve several functions, including (a) they permit us to assume the generality of established behavioral principles; (b) guiding future scientific inquiry; (c) making sense of the fragmentary data we have about the behavioral world around us; and (d) displace the tendency to invoke a mentalist approach to behavior presenting without clear environmental origins (Palmer, 2011). Recent technological advancements have enabled a shift in private events from previously, unobservable, and unknown theories to observable, measurable events with increased confidence and reliability. Technology has opened a window to view an entire realm of previously unobservable and hence. unconfirmable events. Through these technological advances now have allowed access to more information and data than ever before to inform our practice. Thus, the field of Behavior of Analysis has a responsibility to expand our focus and efforts to analyze these now, not-so-private events to inform our treatment of behavior, our individual as a whole person, and further contribute to the evidence-base impacting the analysis of private events.

Instruction Level: Advanced
Keyword(s): adults population, bio measures, HRQol, private events
Target Audience:

Understanding of bio-measures Experience with Functional Analysis Familiarity with co-morbid diagnoses and symptom presentation Severe/complex behaviors and automatic reinforcement

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) understand a potential method for teaching individuals with ASD to tact pain attenuation; (2) develop a baseline understanding of bio measures and skin conductivity; and (3) leave with evidence that private behaviors can and should be brought to the surface and included in data analysis and treatment.

Teaching Adolescents With Autism Spectrum Disorder to Tact Private Events Related to Tactile Stimuli

DANIELE RIZZI (Fondazione Oltre le Parole Onlus - Pescara), Annalisa Galeone (Fondazione Oltre le Parole Onlus - Pescara), Cristina Pavone (Fondazione Oltre le Parole Onlus - Pescara), Lorenza D'arcangelo (Fondazione Oltre le Parole Onlus - Pescara), Michela Scinto (Fondazione Oltre le Parole - Pescara), Laura D'Amico (Fondazione Oltre le Parole - Pescara)

There is insufficient empirical research investigating how individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience pain. However, data suggests individuals with ASD experience more painful conditions compared to their peers (Symons, et al., 2009). Further complicating pain assessment with individuals with ASD, is the fact that although self-report is considered the “gold standard” to report pain, a vast majority of the ASD population are either unable or inaccurate in their self-reporting skills. Therefore, accurately assessing pain is often a challenge (Failla et al., 2020; Mazefsky et al., 2011). This study is a replication and extension of the previous research conducted by Rajagopal and colleagues (2020) to teach individuals to tact private events with public accompaniments. This study taught three adolescents with ASD to respond to tactile stimulation (e.g., rough, cold, stinging) using multiple stimuli (e.g., ice, fork, nail file) identifying private events of multiple body parts (e.g., head, cheek, neck) by emitting a tact. A concurrent multiple baseline design across subjects was used to evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention. During the intervention, participants learned to tact three sensations on three different body parts. Participants were able to generalize responding to novel stimuli (various items) and novel parts of the body, but not to novel sensations. In order to address this limitation, a more generic topography to tact novel sensations was taught (e.g., I feel something on my…) while maintenance for the previously acquired responses was assessed. All participants generalized the generic topography of tact to novel untaught sensations while maintaining previously acquired specific tacts. After the conclusion of the study, two participants reported to their caregiver private events related to pain showing overall social significance.


Using Electrodermal Activity to Manage Biological Stress: Mind Over Body or Body Over Mind?

JESSICA ZAWACKI (PAAL), Gloria Satriale (Mission for Educating Children with Autism)

Despite the dearth of literature on the identification and treatment of mental health and psychiatric co-morbid conditions in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), there remain significant challenges in the measurement of these symptoms (Ozivadjian, 2013). The comorbidity statistics on the co-occurrence of ASD and anxiety disorders are reported as highly variable across research studies which may be a direct result of the considerable overlap in the presentation of anxiety symptomatology and autism characteristics (Adams et al., 2018). In addition to these challenges, comorbid diagnoses also directly impact individual quality of life. There has been considerable research on the impact of anxiety on the health-related quality of life (HRQoL) of neurotypical individuals and only a few studies on the impact of anxiety on the HRQol of individuals with ASD (Mason et al., 2019; Mendlowicz & Stein, 2000; Smith et al., 2019). This considerable gap in the research, often leaves practitioners and physicians working separate from one another, each treating within, and not across, their specialty. One consideration, to bridge this gap and create continuity, is the incorporation of bio-feedback measures. Biofeedback can now be used as a “mirror” to improve self-awareness surrounding private events, but also can be utilized as a learning skill in the development of self-regulation skills (Yu et al., 2018). These devices and tools need continued validation, and additional research to support their efficacy due to the number of devices and their relative youth. Part one of this study included three adults with ASD and two neurotypical staff members to establish a correlation between a portable device’s report of stress responses (through skin conductance responses), verbal self-report of the participant, and observable biological changes. Part two of the study involved an individual-specific training intervention to utilize the portable device as a self-management tool to reduce biometric indicators of an increased stress response. Upon reaching a predetermined threshold of stress indicators, each individual was taught to identify changes in private events (as indicated on the portable device) and engage in a self-management strategy to decrease stress responses. Following the utilization of the strategy, results indicated a subsequent and temporally proximate decrease in the bio measure as well as a corresponding verbal confirmation of reduced feelings of stress.




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