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.


41st Annual Convention; San Antonio, TX; 2015

Event Details

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Symposium #26
CE Offered: BACB
ACT for Children with Autism, Emotional Challenges, and Mental Illness
Saturday, May 23, 2015
1:00 PM–2:50 PM
Texas Ballroom Salon C (Grand Hyatt)
Area: CBM; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Autumn N. McKeel (Aurora University)
Discussant: Karen R. Harper (ABA of Illinois, LLC)
CE Instructor: Rachel Enoch, M.S.

In the field of behavior analysis a great deal of emphasis is placed on the direct management of contingencies in order to promote appropriate behavior while suppressing maladaptive behaviors. While strategies such as these have shown great efficacy in decreasing problem behavior among children and those with intellectual disabilities, these same methods have often been met with resistance when applied to verbally capable populations. Furthermore, many of the mental health difficulties encountered by these verbally capable populations are the result of acting upon verbal contingencies rather than the ones imposed by the non-verbal environment. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a behavioral approach to talk therapy, may help behavior analysts to bridge this verbal gap between actual contingencies and those imposed by our verbal behavior by helping individuals to become aware of their current environment while decreasing the saliency of negative verbal construction and increasing their ability to identify and act upon appropriate patterns of behavior. The purpose of this symposium will be to introduce the behavior analytic foundations and methods of ACT-based therapy among populations of clinical importance to behavior analysts. Specifically, these presentations will stress the importance of observable measures of behavior, overt verbal behavior, and choice allocations that demonstrate changes in psychological flexibility, discuss the influence of ACT-based exercises on impulsivity, indicate increases in adaptive behavior, and how ACT-based treatments may influence employment sustainability.

Keyword(s): ACT, Autism, Emotional Disorder, Mental Illness
Behavioral Metrics of Psychological Flexibility in Children with Autism and Emotional Disorders
ASHLEY SHAYTER (Southern Illinois University), Mark R. Dixon (Southern Illinois University), Cindy Penrod (Region 3 Special Education Cooperative, Illinois)
Abstract: Psychological flexibility is a primary clinical goal of ACT-based behavioral interventions. In adults, this goal is usually measured via self-report questionnaires that relate to the individual’s acceptance and willingness to experience unpleasant thoughts, their awareness of the present moment, and how closely they are living a values-based life. Such measures, however, are not appropriate for populations who have language disabilities or for children with emotional/behavioral difficulties due to limited applicability of the events described in the questionnaires. The following paper will discuss the use of ACT-based curriculums for children with Autism and emotional behavioral disorders and the modifications to performance measures necessary to capture the elusive and often covert patterns of behavior characterized as psychological flexibility. Special emphasis will be placed on observable measures of behavior, overt verbal behavior, and choice allocation. Examples of data taken in the field will be presented and implications of future research will be discussed.
Using Mindfulness to Alter Discounting of the Future and Psychological Flexibility in Children with Autism and Emotional Disorders
RACHEL ENOCH (Southern Illinois University), Mark R. Dixon (Southern Illinois University)
Abstract: The current studies used temporal discounting procedures to characterize choice behaviors regarding hypothetical amounts of money with children who have autism and other emotional disorders. Variable amounts of money were altered across delays to approximate values the children had potentially contacted in the past, the delay to receiving the monetary outcome was reduced relative to the traditional delays used in the discounting literature, and randomized values were presented rather than values being presented in a fixed descending order. In the experimental group, children were presented with an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy lesson (i.e. a mindfulness or values lesson) from the book ACT for Children with Autism and Emotional Challenges. The control group was presented with an arbitrary task (i.e. watching a movie clip). After being exposed to the ACT lesson (experimental group) or the arbitrary task (control group), the participants were presented the discounting task. Participants also participated in filling out the AAQII, a likert scale measurement used to determine psychological flexibility that was originally designed for adults, and the AAQ(K), a questionnaire similar to the AAQII only revised to use children friendly language. Children were provided both measures twice, four months apart. The relationship between Pre-AAQII and the AAQ(K) scores were examined using Pearson correlations. Scores regarding the relationship of the two questionnaires upon pre test was significant (p= .001) and correlated strongly (r=.910). The relationship between Post-AAQII and AAQ(K) scores were also examined using Pearson correlations. Scores regarding the relationship of the two questionnaires upon post-test was significant (p=.001) and correlated strongly (r=.940). The results of the present studies suggest that children who received the arbitrary task discounted at a steeper rate than persons who received the ACT intervention. This suggests that ACT may be an effective intervention increase self-control and decrease impulsivity. Furthermore, the strong correlation between the AAQII and the AAQ(K) suggests that the AAQ(K) may be a useful tool to use with children when assessing psychological flexibility.
Exploring the Clinical Utility of Mindfulness Based Interventions
ERIN KASSON (Saint Louis University), Alyssa N. Wilson (Saint Louis University)
Abstract: Current research suggests that mindfulness based interventions can be effective at reducing maladaptive behaviors such as physical aggression, verbal outbursts, while increasing adaptive behaviors such as attending and task completion. The current set of studies examined the clinical utility of mindfulness based interventions with individuals and groups, when paired with and without additional behavior analytic interventions. The first study assessed the utility of an aversive stimulus preference assessment paired with mindfulness on an adult with Autism Spectrum Disorder, during predicted and unpredicted events. An MSWO procedure was used to identify and rank order 12 aversive events, which were subsequently presented during an in-vivo phase of the mindfulness model. Results demonstrated sustained increases in completing mindfulness behaviors for the low and medium aversive events, while the highly aversive events required additional training; however, minimal mindful behaviors were emitted during unpredicted events. The second study used similar methodology to assess events believed to trigger problem behaviors in a classroom, where students were exposed to mindfulness training. Data collected to date supported previous research using mindfulness in a classroom. Implications for clinical practice, including a step-by-step overview on how to use mindfulness in groups and with individuals, will be provided.
Teaching Social Workers how to Use Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Young Adults with Severe Mental Illness
TYLER GLASSFORD (Saint Louis University), Alyssa N. Wilson (Saint Louis University), Olivia Gratz (Saint Louis University)
Abstract: The current study assessed the efficacy of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) on days employed with young adults with severe mental illness. Researchers trained case managers and licensed social workers at a Midwestern mental health agency to use ACT with clients with severe mental illness. Case managers and social workers completed a 6hr ACT didactic training workshop specifically targeted for applying the model to their young adult (age 16-25) clients. After completing the workshop, clinicians were instructed to target clients who a) were diagnosed with a severe mental illness (e.g., schizophrenia, bipolar, depression) and b) had a treatment goal of finding and sustaining employment. Dependent measures included number of days employed between sessions, and attendance rates to treatment and medical appointments. Baseline data was collected across: retrospective (where clients reported the number of days they were employed for the past 30 days) and real-time (where clinicians observed and tracked number of days employed between sessions). Data collected to date suggests that after the first ACT session, clients sustained employment for upwards of 100% of days between sessions, and have increased attendance at treatment and medical appointments. Implications for practice, and training clinical social workers on using ACT, will be discussed.



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