Morrison K the Effect of Object Preferences on Task Performance and Stereotypy in a Child With Autism

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  Pergamon Research in Developmental Disabilities. Vol. 18, No. 2, pp. 127-137, 1997 Copyright © 1997 Elsevier Science Ltd Printed in the USA. All rights reserved 0891-4222/97 17.00 + .00 PII S0891-4222 96)00046-7 The Effect of Object Preferences on Task Performance and Stereotypy in a Child With utism Kenda Morrison University of Kansas Jesfis Rosales Ruiz University of North Texas The relationship between preJerred objects associated with stereoDpy, stereon pic behavior, and accuracy of responding during a counting task by a child with autism was analyzed. Object preference was determined by presenting the child with different sets qf objects and asking him to choose one. His choices were then rank ordered into three groups: kin; medium, and high preference objects. Counting performance within each ~ the three object groups was then analyzed in a multi-element design, alter- nating preJerence groups. Teaching with high-preference objects o¢z asioned more stereoD,pic behavior and less accurate counting than teaching with medium- and low-preference objects. Thus, there exists the possibili O that teaching may be less successful with certabt teaching materials, especially if those materials evoke high rates qf incompatible behaviors. © 1997 Elsevier Science Ltd. This research fulfilled a requirement for the first author's Master of Arts degree in Human Development from the University of Kansas. The authors would like to extend their gratitude to Shahla Alai-Rosales, Donald M. Baer, David G. Born, Jorge Garcia, Bryan D. Midgley, and James A. Sherman for their contributions in the development of this project. Requests for reprints should be sent to Kenda Morrison, Department of Human Development, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045-2133. 27  128 K. Morrison and J. Rosales Ruiz Children with autism often display high rates of stereotypic behaviors, such as hand-flapping, body-rocking, and gazing at lights (Schreibman, 1988). This finding is clinically significant partially because these behaviors sometimes interfere with the learning of new behaviors, as well as the performance of those previously learned (Koegel Covert, 1972; Lovaas, Litrownik, Mann, 1971; Lovaas, Newsom, Hickman, 1987; Risley, 1968). Due to the apparent incompatibility of learning and stereotypic behavior, at least in lower- functioning children with autism, the reduction or transformation of these behaviors has been considered necessary for the further development of these children (Lovaas, 1981). Stereotypic behaviors have been effectively reduced with response-decre- ment procedures focusing on the use of consequences. For example, sensory extinction (Aiken Salzberg, 1984; Rincover, 1978) and overcorrection (Maag, Rutherford, Wolchik, Parks, 1986) have decreased stereotypies. An alternative strategy is to reduce stereotypy during teaching by removing the stimulus conditions evoking the stereotypy. This approach was suggested as early as 1968, when Risley eliminated climbing in a child with autism by removing the furniture from the room. This strategy, however, can be difficult because the relevant variables may be difficult to ascertain. For example, high demand conditions (Mace, Browder, Lin, 1987), novel therapists (Runco, Charlop, Schreibman, 1986), and different types of objects (Watters Wood, 1983) have all been associated with increased stereotypic behavior. In particular, LaGrow and Repp (1984) determined that 15 of the 60 studies they reviewed addressed stereotypic behavior by someone who was manipulating the environ- ment or an object within the environment. Grandin (1987), who was diagnosed with autism as a child and is now a successful adult, advises parents and teachers to use their children's fixations as tools to increase their motivation to learn. Using the objects of children's fixations as teaching materials is suggested. There is a growing body of literature that illuminates the importance of providing choices when working with people with disabilities (Guess, Benson, Siegel-Causey, 1985; Koegel et al., 1989; Shevin Klein, 1984). Providing choices has been demonstrated to reduce problem behavior (Dunlap et al., 1994; Dyer, Dunlap, Winterling, 1990; Foster-Johnson, Ferro, Dunlap, 1994), including social avoidance (Koegel, Dyer, Bell, 1987) and stereotypy (Dyer, 1987). Task engagement (Dunlap et al., 1994), task performance (Mithaug Mar, 1980; Parsons, Reid, Reynolds, Bumgarner, 1990), responsiveness (Dyer, 1987), and desirable behaviors, such as direction following (Foster- Johnson et al., 1994) have increased in association with choice-making. When the logic of choice is extended to teaching materials, problems could arise if items associated with high levels of stereotypy, which in turn interfere with learning, are chosen. The present study is concerned with both the interfering effects of stereotypy, as well as the stimulus conditions associated with stereotypy. We analyze the  Preferred Objects 29 degree to which differentially preferred objects evoke differential rates of stereotypy and alter accuracy of counting. METHO Subject The participant was a 5-year-old child with autism, who had been receiving intensive behavioral treatment to increase language, social, daily living, recre- ational, and academic skills for approximately 2 1/2 years. His IQ was rated at 36 by the Bayley Scales of Infant Development and he had minimal functional language (less than 10 words). Setting and Materials The research was conducted in a room in the child' s home where most of his daily teaching sessions were held. The eight types of objects used in this experiment were selected from the child's current pool of teaching materials and included bean bags, pieces of felt, assorted plastic blocks, wooden beads, various plastic shapes, plastic fruit, crayons, and puzzle pieces. Casual obser- vation had suggested that the child frequently engaged in stereotypic behavior with the bean bags. Procedure Experimental sessions lasted approximately 8 to 10 minutes per day, and were held up to four times per week. Counting Task The counting task consisted of the experimenter asking the child to count a specified number of objects and place them in a container. At the beginning of each session, 10 objects of one type (e.g., the 10 bean bags) were placed in front of the child on the table and an open container was located to the child's right. If necessary, the experimenter said, Hands down, and the trial began. The experimenter then said, Give me [number] (e.g., Give me 5 ), and the child repeated the number (as taught earlier). Then the experimenter said, Again, and the child repeated the number (this verbal rehearsal was used in an attempt to break echolalic sequences as a part of his overall teaching program). Finally, the experimenter said, Give me [number]. The child had been taught previ- ously to count that number of objects into the container, one by one, on this third request, after two statements of the number. If the child put the correct number in the container, the experimenter provided approximately 5 seconds of music from a tape recorder and praised him. If the child was incorrect, the experi-  130 K. Morrison and J. Rosales Ruiz menter said, no in a neutral tone of voice. A trial was scored as correct when the child put in the container only the number of objects that the experimenter had specified and then put his hands in his lap. An incorrect response was scored if the child put more or fewer objects in the container than the experimenter had requested (he often put all the objects in the container), or 15 seconds passed without him putting any objects in the container. Behavior Observation The child's teachers were also the reliability observers. They sat approxi- mately 6 feet from the child and experimenter, and recorded data simultaneously with the experimenter. Observers recorded the number of items requested, the number of items given, the type of response (correct, incorrect, or prompted), absence or presence of stereotypy, eye gaze, and the consequence that occurred for each trial. Stereotypy. Stereotypy was recorded whenever the child engaged in stereotypic behavior between the end of the instruction and the beginning of the conse- quence. Stereotypic behavior was defined as three or more quick repetitive movements of the hands, with or without objects in the hands, such as flaps, claps, pats, and rotations. Eye gaze. The experimenter's eye gaze was measured during sessions 4 to 52. The word Eye was circled when the experimenter maintained a gaze at the child's face throughout his entire response. This procedure was implemented to safeguard against the child cueing in on unintentional prompts (e.g., the exper- imenter establishing eye contact when the correct number of items was placed in the container). The word Eye was to be slashed if this did not occur. Experimental Design A multi-element design (cf. Sidman, 1960) was used to evaluate task per- formance during brief periods with high-, medium-, and low-preference objects. Each type of object was used in each daily session, but the order in which the objects were presented each day was chosen at random. Experimental Phases Preference was assessed before the experiment began, as well as during the final phase of the study. The sequence of experimental phases was as follows: (a) Feedback Alone, (b) Prompting, and (c) Feedback Alone.
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