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.


14th Annual Autism Conference; Miami, FL; 2020

Event Details

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Invited Paper Session #17

Instructional Sequence Effects in Early Language Intervention

Tuesday, February 25, 2020
10:30 AM–11:20 AM
Regency Ballroom
Area: AUT; Domain: Service Delivery
Instruction Level: Basic
CE Instructor: Anna Petursdottir, Ph.D.
Chair: Robert K. Ross (Beacon ABA Services)
ANNA PETURSDOTTIR (Texas Christian University)

Anna Ingeborg Petursdottir received her Ph.D. from Western Michigan University. She is currently an associate professor of psychology and chair of the psychology department at Texas Christian University (TCU), where she teaches courses and supervises doctoral students in Experimental Psychology. She also holds an appointment as a part-time lecturer at Reykjavik University. Anna is a previous editor of The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, a previous associate editor of JABA and a current associate editor of JEAB. She is president-elect of Division 25 of the American Psychological Association, a board member of the Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, a member of the ABAI science board, and a past president of the Texas Association for Behavior Analysis. Anna’s research encompasses both basic and applied interests and focuses primarily on verbal behavior acquisition and the relationship between verbal behavior and derived stimulus relations.


Language and communication skills are a major focus of early intervention programs for young children diagnosed with ASD who present with language delays. Based on typical developmental sequences, early curricula emphasized establishing language comprehension before moving to production; operationalized as completing receptive programs prior to the corresponding expressive programs. By contrast, more recent approaches that are rooted in behavioral accounts of language are more likely to recommend mixing receptive and expressive instruction. In this presentation, I will review old and new evidence suggesting that for many learners, the most efficient way to establish both comprehension and production is to focus on expressive instruction, particularly on the verbal operant termed the tact. This may be the case even when the primary goal is to establish another verbal operant, such as the intraverbal. I will present some hypotheses as to why the empirical evidence seems to favor this approach, along with relevant data. Likewise, I will review what is known about potential prerequisites for tact instruction to result in the establishment of additional speaker and listener behavior, and which questions remain unanswered.

Target Audience:

Board certified behavior analysts; licensed psychologists; graduate students.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) to summarize the major conclusions of studies that have compared expressive-before-receptive with receptive-before-expressive instructional sequences; (2) explain how the occurrence of collateral behaviors at the time of reinforcement might contribute the greater efficiency of expressive-before-receptive instruction; (3) explain how different trial formats might contribute to the greater efficiency of expressive-before-receptive instruction.



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