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.


50th Annual Convention; Philadelphia, PA; 2024

Event Details

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Symposium #190
CE Offered: BACB
Increasing Physical Activity in Individuals With and Without Developmental Disabilities
Sunday, May 26, 2024
8:00 AM–9:50 AM
Convention Center, 100 Level, 113 A
Area: AUT/DDA; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Julia Iannaccone (Rutgers University)
Discussant: Christopher J. Perrin (Bancroft)
CE Instructor: Christopher J. Perrin, Ph.D.

Limited physical activity is associated with numerous negative health outcomes such as increased risk of heart disease and type two diabetes (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022). Furthermore, individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes, obesity, and hypertension compared to the general population (Croen et al., 2015). The present symposium will explore four studies evaluating different methods to increase physical activity in individuals with and without developmental disabilities, such as ASD. Findings show that interdependent group contingencies and goal-setting procedures effectively increase physical activity in sedentary adults. Furthermore, results of the current presentations also show that behavioral economics, goal-setting with differential reinforcement of alternative behavior, and evaluating the preference for specific exercise activities successfully increase physical activity in children and adults with ASD. Taken together, the results of these four presentations demonstrate various effective methods to increase physical activity in a wide range of settings.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): exercise, goal setting, physical activity, preference
Target Audience:

Participants should have an understand of the theory of reinforcement and extinction.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) describe methods to increase physical activity in sedentary adults, (2) detail procedures to increase physical activity in children with developmental disabilities, and (3) discuss procedures to increase physical activity in adults with autism and severe challenging behavior.
Effects of an Interdependent Group Contingencies and Goal-Setting Procedure on Physical Activity Research
KATHERINE CUCINOTTA (West Virginia University), Kathryn M. Kestner (West Virginia University)
Abstract: Despite the various positive health outcomes of physical activity (e.g., increased cognitive abilities and bone health; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2022a), an increasing number of adults are physically inactive. In the United States, 25.3% of adults reported engaging in no leisure-time physical activity in the past month (CDC, 2022b). Given the numerous negative health consequences associated with physical inactivity (e.g., increased risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes; CDC, 2022b), there is a critical need for interventions that successfully increase physical activity levels. The present study examined effects of an interdependent group contingency on physical activity in sedentary adults. Nine participants wore Fitbits and were assigned to teams. During baseline, researchers tracked daily step counts. The intervention consisted of a goal-setting procedure and an interdependent group contingency. Participants received individualized step-based goals and earned monetary incentives based on their team’s performance. The intervention had limited success: four of nine participants met all, or all but one, weekly step goals, and teams met the interdependent group contingency between 25% and 89% of opportunities. Future directions for physical activity research will be discussed.

Leveraging Behavioral Economics to Promote Healthy Choices in Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders

ROBERT W. ISENHOWER (Rutgers University ), Jenna Budge (Rutgers University), Robert LaRue (Rutgers University)

The impact of sedentary lifestyle on health is well-documented, with associations to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The literature suggests that the risk for these negative health-related outcomes is more pronounced in individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Recent research by McCoy and Morgan (2020) underscores that adolescents with ASDs tend to engage in lower levels of physical activity and exhibit higher rates of obesity in comparison to neurotypical peers. The current investigation aims to apply the principles of behavioral economics to modify physical activities and dietary choices among individuals with ASDs. Our approach involves identifying high/low calorie meal preferences and distinguishing between strenuous/non-strenuous exercise preferences for each participant. Economic incentives are introduced to encourage more strenuous exercises while assigning higher costs to meals with higher caloric content, promoting healthier, low-calorie alternatives. Preliminary results indicate that economic manipulations are successful at shifting behavior to less preferred, more strenuous exercise and dietary choice to lower preferred, healthier meals. This approach not only provides valuable insights into promoting healthier behaviors in individuals with ASDs but also highlights the potential of behavioral economics in mitigating the health risks associated with sedentary lifestyles in this population.


Increasing Physical Activity in Adults With Autism Spectrum Disorder and Severe Challenging Behavior

MATTHEW LOUIS LUCCIOLA (Rutgers University), Julia Iannaccone (Rutgers University), Sydney Hall (Rutgers University), Christopher Manente (Rutgers Center for Adult Autism Services, Rutgers University), SungWoo Kahng (Rutgers University), Robert LaRue (Rutgers University)

Adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are disproportionally more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes, obesity, and hypertension compared to the general population (Croen et al., 2015). Whereas physical activity has been associated with improvement in problem behaviors demonstrated by individuals with ASD, limited research has been conducted with autistic adults with severe challenging behavior (Allison et al., 1991). The present study evaluated the effectiveness of goal setting and differential reinforcement of alternative behavior to increase the physical activity in three autistic adults admitted to an outpatient clinic for the assessment and treatment of severe challenging behavior. The present procedures effectively increased physical activity for all participants across four different forms of exercise (e.g., yoga, walking, soccer, basketball). The present study provides a model for clinicians working in the adult service setting to increase physical activity, and overall improve the health of the individual served with special considerations for severe challenging behavior.

Further Evaluation of Context on Preference for and Levels of Physical Activity
Lauren Adkins (Bancroft and Rider University), Christopher J. Perrin (Bancroft), JONATHON C. METZ (Bancroft)
Abstract: To help reduce health risks, it is recommended that children and adolescents get 60 minutes of physical activity a day and adults get 150 minutes of physical activity a week (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018). However, many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities do not meet these criteria (ID/DD; Dairo et al. 2016; Peterson et al. 2018). To address this, it may be beneficial to assess individuals’ preference for contexts that promote physical activity. For instance, Pincus and colleagues (2019) found that for some individuals with ID/DD, contexts associated with higher levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA ) were preferred to sedentary activities. We replicated and extended this research by assessing levels of MVPA emitted by individuals with ID/DD when provided access to materials for physical activities (e.g., gross motor toys, adaptive bicycle, exergame), materials for sedentary activities, and no materials. We then assessed preference for these contexts using a GIF-based preference assessment. Results indicated that levels of MVPA tended to be highest in contexts containing materials for physical activities, and that for most participants, these contexts were preferred to those with sedentary activities.



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