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 #120
Prompt Less and Shape More: Using Interconnected Chains for Skill Acquisition and Problem Behavior Reduction When Teaching Children With Autism
Saturday, May 25, 2024
3:00 PM–4:50 PM
Convention Center, 100 Level, 103 C
Area: AUT/PCH; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Smita Awasthi (Behavior Momentum India)
Discussant: Jesus Rosales-Ruiz (University of North Texas)
CE Instructor: Smita Awasthi, Ph.D.

Skinner (1932) was able to shape behaviors quickly and without trial and error because he first taught his rats all of the prerequisites they needed (Sidman, 2010). Behavior analysts who work with children with autism and developmental disabilities generally do not observe this fast, one-trial learning, perhaps because they are not following Skinner’s model. Instead, it is common to see repeated errors, variability in outcomes, prompt dependence, escape or avoidance behaviors, and inappropriate behaviors. In this symposium, we will examine how accelerated learning can occur when the therapist begins by building a reinforcement system consisting of an interconnected chain of therapist-student behaviors (Fernandez and Roasles-Ruiz, 2023; Rosales-Ruiz, Hunter, and Fernandez, 2023). The first paper discusses literature on shaping without the use of extra stimulus prompts, the second an experiment with students that measured the efficiency of instructional sessions using this approach, the third reducing high rates of problem behaviors without directly addressing them, and the fourth teaching students with profound discrimination problems to tact colors using shaping procedures. These four studies offer practitioners an alternative approach to designing and implementing instruction for children with ASD and other developmental disabilities.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Target Audience:

Target audience should have studied behavior analysis at the undergraduate level and should be familiar with terms such as Reinforcement, Conditioned reinforcers, stimulus control, verbal operants.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to (1) Describe how to build Reinforcement systems (2) Discuss interconnected chains (3) Shape behvaior with minimal prompts (4) Explain how to capture behavior without prompting (5) Teach using the constructional approach

Shaping With or Without Prompting: Findings From a Scoping Review

DAG STRÖMBERG (Stockholm University), Lise Renat Roll-Pettersson (Stockholm University), Wissam Mounzer (Stockholm university), Samuel Odom (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Shaping is an effective and well-established gradual change procedure for teaching new skills that is sometimes combined with other strategies, such as prompting. However, to the best of our knowledge, no review has been published that provides an overview of applications of response shaping in interventions for persons with developmental disabilities. Results of the current scoping review include a description of the reviewed studies, and a synthesis of the findings. This includes a study of participant samples, experimental designs, teaching settings, assessments used, social validity, and shaping outcomes. A majority of the studies targeted persons with autism spectrum disorder, even though other diagnoses were also represented. Most studies employed single-case experimental designs and reported positive outcomes of response shaping, for a variety of target behaviors.While it is possible to combine response shaping with various prompts, it can also be used without prompts.This presentation will highlight and discuss the presence or absence of prompting in the reviewed studies.


Improving Quality of Instruction for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) by Building Interconnected Therapist-Student Behavior Chains

Smita Awasthi (Behavior Momentum India), SRIDHAR ARAVAMUDHAN (Behavior Momentum India), Papiya Mukherjee (Behavior Momentum India), Anupama Jagdish (Behavior Momentum India), Shushmita K.S (Behavior Momentum India)

Children with ASD and developmental disorders may learn at a slower pace when teachers use poorly-designed reinforcement schedules (Epstein 1985), the withdrawal of positive reinforcement (Ferster, 1957), intrusive prompting, and procedures that create poisoned cues (Pryor and Ramirez, 2014). Fernandez and Rosales-Ruiz (2023) and Rosales-Ruiz, Hunter and Fernandez (2023) proposed that learning can be accelerated if the teacher starts by building a reinforcement system consisting of an unconditioned reinforcer, a conditioned reinforcer (Ferster, 1975), and a reinforcement delivery system. In this approach, backward chaining is used to build interconnected chains of therapist-student behaviors. In this study, two students with ASD displayed high levels of escape and distress behaviors during baseline (90% and 40% of the sessions). Using backward chaining, they first learned to access reinforcement systematically and then to perform low-response-effort tasks. As students’ affect improved and response latencies reduced, new instructional stimuli were added. After treatment, both participants displayed relaxed affect during sessions and zero escape behaviors. Experiments are continuing with more students. Additional data will be presented related to prompt-free instruction procedures that use shaping to increase the pace of instruction and learn units acquired.

Behavior Reduction Without Direct Intervention - A Constructional Approach
SMITA AWASTHI (Behavior Momentum India), Anupama Jagdish (Behavior Momentum India), Papiya Mukherjee (Behavior Momentum India), Tejashree Gambhir (Behavior Momentum India), Sridhar Aravamudhan (Behavior Momentum India)
Abstract: Autism intervention typically begins with an assessment of a child’s skills (Roane, et al., 2016). If the child engages in unwanted behavior, a functional behavior assessment is conducted and the following treatment plan generally focuses on behavior reduction, along with skill building. Behavior analysts can alternatively concentrate solely on building solutions. Strategies may include modifying the environment for free operant learning (Ferster, 1953), use shaping with minimal prompts, build desirable repertoires (Goldiamond, 1975) and building reinforcement systems as interconnected chains (Fernandez & Rosales-Ruiz, 2023). In the current study we applied these ideas to build reinforcement loops with student initiations, therapist directed transitions and honouring reach out during mands. Minimal prompts were used during the intervention and pre-requisite behaviors were taught for improved learning readiness. During baseline, rates of non-compliance was high, manding was low, and each child engaged in high levels of challenging behaviors Data across four participants demonstrated improvements in eye contact and a reduction in a variety of challenging behaviors without direct intervention for either of these measures. The positive effect on acquisition of learn units post intervention will be discussed. The study is continuing with additional participants.

Teaching to Tact Colors Using Shaping and Interconnected Chains to Four Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Smita Awasthi (Behavior Momentum India), Anupama Jagdish (Behavior Momentum India), Papiya Mukherjee (Behavior Momentum India), TEJASHREE GAMBHIR (Behavior Momentum India), Sridhar Aravamudhan (Behavior Momentum India)

A combined blocking procedure (Williams, 2005) was effective in teaching colors discrimination to a 14-year-old boy with Autism. The current study used a shaping procedure with minimal prompts and interconnected behavior chains (Rosales-Ruiz, Hunter, and Fernandez, 2023). Four students aged 5 to 9 years with a limited repertoire of tacts (50-100) and listener responding (50-100) participated in this study. In assessments of colors discrimination, three students emitted correct responses at less than chance levels in baseline and a fourth slightly above chance levels with high variability. We selected six color targets for each participant. Each color was trained one at a time, presented on a table initially with no distractors. After mastery in step 1, second and third distractors were added on the table in steps 2 and 3 with the student pointing to and tacting the target color. After mastery in terminal step for a color, subsequent target colors were similarly trained, and the study concluded with successful performance in randomized presentations. At the time of submission, the first participant successfully met criterion for the first target color with intervention continuing. Replications with subsequent target colors and additional participants will be discussed.




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