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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Invited Paper Session #304
CE Offered: BACB

From Analysis to Application: Using Multiply Controlled Verbal Behavior to Teach Generalized Question Discrimination to Children With Autism

Monday, May 25, 2015
9:00 AM–9:50 AM
Grand Ballroom C3 (CC)
Area: VRB; Domain: Service Delivery
CE Instructor: Judah B. Axe, Ph.D.
Chair: Judah B. Axe (Simmons College)
Francesca degli Espinosa has worked with children with autism for nearly 20 years. Her clinical and research interests focus on advanced applications of contemporary analyses of verbal behavior (Horne & Lowe, 1996; Lowenkron, 1998, 2008; Michael, Palmer, & Sundberg, 2011) not only as a basis for teaching generalized verbal repertoires, but, thereby, as a means of minimizing the need to teach specific individual verbal responses. During her time as the University of Southampton's lead clinician for the first United Kingdom-based early intensive behavioral intervention outcome study (Remington et al., 2007), Dr. degli Espinosa developed the Early Behavioral Intervention Curriculum (EBIC) as a framework for intervention derived from functional analyses of language--work that subsequently formed a principal focus for her doctoral thesis (degli Espinosa, 2011). She currently teaches verbal behavior across a range of BACB-approved European postgraduate courses and remains committed to broadening international knowledge and understanding of just how meaningfully ABA can improve people's lives. She provides applied behavioral interventions for families and educational institutions both in the UK and in Italy, where she has mentored many of her home country's currently certified BCBAs and continues to supervise Italian behavior analysts of the future. Dr. degli Espinosa lives in Southampton, UK, with her partner and three children.

Although in recent years an increasing number of single-case studies have focused on teaching language skills to children with autism using Skinner's (1957) analysis of verbal behavior, the majority have concentrated on establishing primary operants at the single-word level. Nevertheless, from 2 to 3 years of age, typically developing children naturally demonstrate generalized and multiply controlled verbal behavior, including autoclitics: They are, for example, able to provide full-sentence answers to novel questions about ongoing and past events, to describe their own experiences, and to respond to a diversity of novel instructions. One of the greatest challenges currently facing applied behavior analysts remains, therefore, how to teach such complex verbal behavior to children with autism. This presentation will propose that contemporary analyses of multiple control (Lowenkron, 1998; Michael, Palmer, & Sundberg, 2011) offer a conceptually coherent practical basis for the development and curricular organization of procedures to meet this challenge. A program of instruction will be presented in which language objectives are organized along a continuum of increasingly complex stimulus control, and discussion thereby provided of how best to move from establishment of basic vocabulary in primary operants to mastery of complex verbal conditional discriminations across both primary and secondary operants. Special emphasis will be placed on the role of autoclitic frames and intraverbal control in teaching generalized question answering at the tact and intraverbal level and as means of avoiding the discrimination errors that commonly result from teaching specific individual responses to specific individual questions.

Keyword(s): autism, conditional discrimination, language, multiple control



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