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 #29
CE Offered: BACB
A Look at Functional Communication Training: Persistence, Schedule Thinning, and Without Extinction
Saturday, May 27, 2023
11:00 AM–12:50 PM
Convention Center Mile High Ballroom 1A/B
Area: DDA/AUT; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Colin S. Muething (Marcus Autism Center)
Discussant: Daniel R. Mitteer (Rutgers University (RUCARES))
CE Instructor: Colin S. Muething, Ph.D.
Abstract: Functional communication training (FCT; Carr & Durand, 1985) is a well-established intervention used to treat various topographies of challenging behavior maintained by social positive (e.g., Betz et al., 2013) and social-negative reinforcement (e.g., Zangrillo et al., 2016). The current symposium will explore four distinct topics related to FCT. Schedule thinning following initial reductions in problem behavior after FCT is paramount. Findings will show that fixed to lean procedures for schedule thinning may be an efficient method to rapidly reducing alternative reinforcement. Additionally, the inclusion of terminal probes may also present rapid acquisition of treatment goals and discrimination. Findings will also show the use of FCT without extinction is effective. Finally, when challenges to treatment occur, persistence of appropriate behavior is important. Findings will show that low preferred communication responses did not persist during a challenge to treatment while high preferred responses persisted. Taken together, these results explore effective variations in the use of FCT.
Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): extinction, FCT, Persistence, schedule thinning
Target Audience: Master's Level BCBAs
Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participant will be able to: 1. Identify various approaches to schedule thinning in the use of a multiple schedule. 2. Describe the use of FCT without extinction. 3. Describe the importance of persistence of appropriate behavior during treatment challenges

Further Analysis of Fixed-Lean Schedule Thinning Following Functional Communication Training

EMILY ANN CHESBROUGH (Kennedy Krieger Institute), Brianna Laureano (Kennedy Krieger Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine), John Falligant (Kennedy Krieger Institute/Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine)

Behavioral interventions to reduce problem behavior typically utilize dense schedules of alternative reinforcement. Following a reduction in problem behavior, schedule thinning is implemented to make the intervention more feasible in natural environments. Hagopian et al. (2004) compared two different approaches to schedule thinning: a dense-to-lean (DTL) and fixed-lean (FL) approach. In the DTL condition, a dense reinforcement schedule was initially implemented and then progressively faded to a terminal schedule. In the FL condition, a lean schedule of reinforcement was implemented at the outset—one that was equivalent to the terminal schedule of the DTL condition. In the current study, we replicated procedures described by Hagopian et al. (2004) to examine FL schedule thinning approaches following functional communication training with three individuals admitted to an inpatient unit for severe problem behavior. Our results suggest that the FL schedule thinning approach may represent an efficient and effective method for rapidly reducing the density of alternative reinforcement during schedule thinning. Considerations for clinical practice are discussed.


Reinforcer Parameter Manipulation in Functional Communication Without Extinction

JULIA IANNACCONE (Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey), Emily A. Jones (Queens College, The Graduate Center, City University of New York)

The use of Functional Communication Training (FCT) to treat severe maladaptive behavior has been associated with limited treatment effects when implemented without extinction (Hagopian et al., 1998). Nevertheless, extinction is not always possible, for example, in adult service settings where individuals are at times larger and stronger than their therapists. To reallocate responding from a problematic behavior to a functional communication response (FCR), previous research suggests manipulating the parameters of the reinforcer (i.e., quality, duration/ magnitude, immediacy/ delay) in favor of the FCR. The purpose of the present study was to assess the effectiveness and social validity of functional communication without extinction and instead, using reinforcer parameter manipulation to treat the severe problem behavior of three adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Manipulating all parameters of the reinforcer within functional communication without extinction substantially reduced problem behavior for all participants, and the procedures were associated with high social validity scores. The results support the use of reinforcer parameter manipulation in situations when extinction is not a possible or feasible component of a problem behavior intervention.


Further Evaluation of Multiple Schedules to Rapidly Establish Discriminated Manding During Functional Communication Training (FCT) Schedule Thinning

ALEXANDRA RAMIREZ (University of Miami), Yanerys Leon (University of Miami), Shermetrius Mack-Gray (University of Miami)

Multiple schedules are commonly used to thin the schedule of reinforcement following functional communication training (FCT; Hagopian et al., 2011). One method of schedule thinning involves slowly introducing periods of signaled extinction for the functional communication response (FCR) and gradually increasing the duration of the extinction period (Hanley et al., 2001). Betz et al., 2013 demonstrated that a two-part multiple schedule approach (i.e., 60 s / 60 s; 60 s / 240 s) was effective in decreasing the overall level of the FCR while maintaining low rates of problem behavior without the lengthy schedule-thinning procedure. Despite those positive findings, participants in Betz et al. did not have an intellectual or developmental disability (IDD) and responded well to verbal instruction. The purpose of this study was to a) replicate the procedures described by Betz et al. with children diagnosed with an IDD with limited language and b) evaluate the efficacy of a terminal probe (60 s / 240 s) as the first multiple schedule exposure. Preliminary results show that the terminal probe was successful in decreasing the rate of the FCR and maintaining low levels of problem behavior for one of two participants.


Persistence of Mands Following Enhanced Reinforcement During Functional Communication Training

KARLA ZABALA-SNOW (Emory University/Marcus Autism Center), Joel Eric Ringdahl (University of Georgia), Kelly M. Schieltz (University of Iowa), Matthew O'Brien (The University of Iowa), Rose Morlino (University of Georgia)

Variables impacting the long-term maintenance of interventions such as functional communication training (FCT) continues to be an important area of research that cuts across both experimental and applied domains. Previous research has demonstrated that preferred mands persist to a greater extent than their less preferred counter parts following similar reinforcement histories. The purpose of the present study was to evaluate the persistence of mands following enhancements to the dimensions of reinforcement for independent manding during functional communication training (FCT). In this study, during FCT, high and low preferred mands were trained using a multiple schedule. In two of the three conditions, the high and low preferred mands were trained as usual, while the third condition trained and enhanced the reinforcement history for the low preferred mand by manipulating one dimension of reinforcement (i.e., reinforcer rate, reinforcer magnitude) to three times the exposure in the training as usual condition. When problem behavior was reduced by 80% of baseline levels, independent manding occurred across 80% of opportunities, and reinforcement rates occurred within 10% of programmed conditions during FCT, treatment was disrupted with extinction. Across enhancement manipulations, results suggested that, despite enhanced reinforcement histories for low preferred mands, high preferred mands persisted to a greater extent.




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