Research Proposal: Autism and Behavior Modification

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Autism Behavior Modification

Health professionals view autism as a disorder involving communication, social interactions and repetitive behaviors (MedlinePlus 2009). It is usually first early in childhood. A person with autism has problems talking with others, may not look at them in the eye and does unusual things and often repetitively. He may line his pencils up in a way that catches attention, same the same sentence again, flap his arms to express joy or hurt himself to express his sorrow. Some autistic persons never learn how to talk. Health professionals describe it as a spectrum disorder because those afflicted exhibit different features or symptoms. Asperger syndrome is a milder form. The cause is still unknown and no treatment has been found. Therefore, the disorder may last a lifetime. Current approaches to its management include behavior and communication therapies and medicines to control the symptoms (MedlinePlus).

Behavior Therapy

The most distinctive feature of autism is the person's inability to relate with others (Kanner 1943 as qt in Cautilli et al. 2002). The condition consists in a disruption in language development or a complete failure to develop language, the need to maintain an unchanging environment, monotonous repetitions of behavioral sequences, good intellectual abilities in very limited areas and little spontaneity in play (Cautilli et al.).

Techniques and Programs

Behavioral therapy techniques take the form of operant conditioning and modeling through which autistic children could be taught many skills (Cautilli et al. 2002). These skills include displaying appropriate affective responses, talking, ending "echolalic" speech, playing with other children, playing symbolically, imitating others and self-management (Cautilli et al.).

Discreet Trial Training

The creators of this program believed that language was the pivotal behavior (Cautilli et al. 2002). The program, thus, focused on increasing expressing, receptive, conversation and complex language skills. All other skills would follow, such as toy play, peer play and socialization. The training was enhanced with haloperidol. An experiment used 3 groups of children for the training. Those in the active treatment were reinforced to be less aggressive, more pliable and more socially responsive. Findings showed that treatment worked better with the use of common home objects and if they remained after treatment ended. The children's average IQs were 83. Early use of this program could help save States $2,460,402 by the time the child reaches 55 (Cautilli et al.).

Functional Analysis and Language

Behavioral therapists divide behavioral excesses of autistic people into four functions, namely escape, attention, tangle and sensory automatic reinforcement (Cautilli et al. 2002). Behavior is generally considered communicative. A replacement verbal skill can be reinforced for an inappropriate one. Functional language training, when combined the inappropriate skill is replaced, leads to disruptive and inappropriate behavior (Cautilli et al.).

Milieu Language Training Model

The effective strategies used are incidental teaching, mand-modeling, time-delay technique, child cued modeling and contingent imitation (Cautilli et al. 2002). Incidental teaching, the primary strategy, presents the context in such a way as maximizing the production of a desired response. This is reinforced by natural means. The objective is to increase spontaneous speech. Language is learned expressively and in the natural context and facilitates generalizations.

Parent Training

It teaches parents how to provide give instructions, use prompts, and provide reinforcements for desired responses (Cautilli et al. 2002). It is also cost-effective. The most common form is teaching parents the discreet trial formal (Cautilli et al.).

Object-Location Matrix

This technique teaches action and object utterances (Cautilli et al. 2002). It is of special benefit to those with severe retardation. This was the finding of a study conducted on developmentally delayed preschoolers. They were able to generalize 48 receptive and 48 expressive responses from only 4 to 6 direct teachings (Cautilli et al.).

Stimulus Equivalence Training

Equivalence relations represent a bigger category of subjective relational responses to persons (Cautilli et al. 200). Further research is needed to know how to incorporate the procedures into the curriculum (Cautilli et al.).

Scripted Interaction

This is to increase the variability of conversation (Cautilli et al. 2002). Experiment showed that introducing scripts with the least prompts would induce greater generalization, increase recombinative elements and generative language. This, in turn, would enhance fluency and the person's inclination to interact with other some more (Cautilli et al.).

Tools for Tackling the Outside World

It is not easy for parents to bring their autistic child outside the home but he must come in contact with the environment for his own development (Krumins 2006). He, thus, needs tools to enable him in the endeavor. These include a regular visual schedule; a "game" plan before going out of the house; showing or explaining expectations; packing sensory objects needed for each day's tasks; and informing particular individuals about what to expect from the autistic child or person (Krumins).

Joint Attention

Programs, which focus on joint attention, can change attention states and improve social functioning and long-term prognosis (Mahoney 2006). This was the conclusion given by Dr. Tanya Paparella of the Early Childhood Partial Hospitalization Program at the University of California at Los Angeles. Joint attention is a child's inclination to draw attention through eye contact, referential eye gaze and pointing. It is an important component of normal development, which normally occurs between 9 and 15 months. Studies said that joint attention behaviors function as basis for developing skills, such as complex expressive language and symbolic play (Mahoney).

The program is conducted for 12 weeks on 12 children with autism aged 2 to 7 for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week (Mahoney 2006). It provides direct intervention in speech therapy, occupational therapy, and recreational therapy. The children are also conferred with as a group or individually to promote language usage, socialization and proper interaction with others. The Mullen Scales of Early Learning are used to evaluate their learning (Mahoney).

Changing an autistic person's attention states through behavioral intervention can significantly contribute to developing more complex social behaviors and communication skills (Mahoney 2006). Dr. Paparella further explained that simply reducing time on passive states can have profound effects on how an autistic person experiences the world (Mahoney).

Rotating Classroom Schedule

Autistic children prefer an unchanged environment. Teachers, thus, reduce the number of changes to which these children are exposed throughout the day each day (Jewell et al. 2007). To test this concept, a study was conducted on 81 autistic children. They were given rotating classroom schedule for six months. They were analyzed before and after the rotation schedule. The study found that approximately half of the children did not experience crisis or difficulty before or after the classroom rotation (Jewell et al.).

The result disagrees with currently accepted perception that autistic children or persons prefer a static environment where things are unchanged (Jewell et al. 2007). Half of all the respondents did not experience crisis on account of changed classroom schedule. This means that autistic children do not generally feel uneasy with changing environments (Jewell et al.).

Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center

Applied Behavior Analysis or ABA has proved to be an effective and superior teaching method to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders or ASD (Handleman & Harris 2005). The Center has been using the ABA for more than 30 years to teach children, adolescents and adults with ASD. It combines research and clinical applications in ABA (Handleman & Harris).

The findings of a follow-up study on 27 children at DDDC showed that, of the 13 who started the program at 48 months or less, only 3 were not in regular education classes (Handleman & Harris 2005). Among the 14 who entered at 50 months or older, only one was not in special education classes. Those who were admitted with higher IQ levels were also most likely to be in regular education classes after the completion of the program. Even those who had lower IQ levels and placed in special education classes nevertheless showed gains in IQ rates (Handleman & Harris).

Technological Interventions

Mechanical Prompts

Five examples are tactile and auditory prompting devices; video-based instruction and feedback, computer-aided instruction, virtual reality, and robotics (Goldsmith and LeBlanc 2004). An autistic person needs external stimulus to initiate, maintain and terminate an act or behavior. The most commonly used prompts are auditory and tactile. Technological advancements have produced cost-effective devices that can prompt with less human interaction and effort. A recent study, which used auditory prompts, on 3 children with autism showed that off-task behavior was greatly increased during intervention periods (Goldsmith & LeBlanc).

Computer-Based Interventions

Computers have been used to teach skills (Goldsmith & LeBlanc 2004). These skills include recognizing and predicting emotions, solving problems, improving vocabulary, spelling, improving vocal limitations, increasing play-related statements, and improving reading and communication. Social stories have been presented in the multimedia, computer-based format by Carol Gray. In their recent study of 8 children with autism, Bosseler & Masaro (2003 as qtd in Goldsmith & LeBlanc) found that they could recall 85% of newly learned items at 30 days after training. Consequent studies provided evidence on the benefits of computer-based instruction. These were increased motivation, decreased… [END OF PREVIEW]

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