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

Previous Page


Invited Paper Session #4

Understanding and Treating Restricted, Repetitive, and Inflexible Forms of Behavior in Autism

Monday, February 24, 2020
9:10 AM–10:00 AM
Regency Ballroom
Area: AUT; Domain: Applied Research
Instruction Level: Intermediate
CE Instructor: James Bodfish, Ph.D.
Chair: Ruth Anne Rehfeldt (The Chicago School of Professional Psychology)
JAMES BODFISH (Vanderbilt University School of Medicine)

I am a Professor of Hearing & Speech Sciences at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine with joint appointments in Psychiatry, Neuroscience, and Special Education. I have devoted my career exclusively to research, teaching, and clinical activities in the field of autism and developmental disabilities. My research has focused on the pathogenesis and treatment of autism and related conditions with a particular focus on repetitive and inflexible patterns of behavior. Research in these areas from our group has been published in a variety of journals including The New England Journal of Medicine, Science, PLoS One, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Autism Research, the American Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities, the Journal of Pediatrics, Brain Behavior Research, and Social Cognitive Affective Neuroscience. My research has been continuously funded by NIH since 1992. My service activities have included: standing member of the NIH Childhood Psychopathology and Developmental Disabilities Study Section; Editor of Autism: The International Journal of Research & Practice; Associate Editor of the American Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities, Co-Chair of the Institute of Medicine Developmental Disabilities Task Force, Governor-appointed member of the Council on Developmental Disabilities; Senate Appointee of the Legislative Study Commission on Autism Spectrum Disorders; expert consultant for the US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, and faculty member of the International Congress on Movement Disorders.


Repetitive patterns of behavior are a hallmark of autism. However, both the research literature and common practices related to this form of behavior are mixed on a key issue: Should repetitive behavior be seen as an adaptive response and encouraged, or a challenging behavior to be treated? Many people with autism report that their repetitive behaviors are useful for them and even an important source of their identity. But, for others, more severe forms of repetitive behavior may limit opportunities for development and may cause stress for families, teachers, and care providers due to the behavior and mood problems that are associated with inflexibility. What assessments are useful for identifying the instances where repetitive behaviors are impeding development and thus are reasonable targets for intervention? And, what intervention approaches are practical and effective when this is the case? When a child with autism has trouble with communication or socialization we intuitively know what to teach to address these deficits, and a considerable amount of research and good practice provide us with guides on how to do this effectively. But, how do you “teach to” the issue of repetitive, rigid and inflexible behavior? Without this notion of how to best address this behaviorally, poor outcomes are a possibility, and non-evidenced based approaches may be considered and applied. In this talk, I’ll review research that has examined the underlying biological and behavioral mechanisms that appear to drive repetitive patterns of behavior and how this information can inform behavioral intervention practices. Key aspects of this work are informed from work in the experimental analysis of behavior on behavioral variability, and work on the behavioral neuroscience of choice, reward and reinforcement. In addition, I’ll describe work we are doing on clinical applications of this research program in clinics, homes, and schools.

Target Audience:

Board certified behavior analysts; licensed psychologists; graduate students.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) identify the range of functional impact associated with repetitive and inflexible patterns of behavior in children and adults with autism; (2) discuss the concepts of behavioral variability and automatic reinforcement and how these relate to repetitive patterns of behavior; (3) discuss behavioral intervention procedures that can assist children in learning to overcome behavioral inflexibility; (4) provide examples of how evidenced-based behavioral interventions for repetitive behaviors can be embedded in a practical way into home, clinic, and school settings.



Back to Top
Modifed by Eddie Soh