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ESTABLISHING DERIVED TEXTUAL CONTROL IN ACTIVITYSCHEDULES WITH CHILDREN WITH AUTISM

CAIO F. MIGUEL, HEEJEAN G. YANG, HEATHER E. FINN, ANDWILLIAM H. AHEARN

NEW ENGLAND CENTER FOR CHILDREN

NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY

Activity schedules are often used to facilitate task engagement and transition for children withautism. This study evaluated whether conditional discrimination training would serve to transferthe control from activity-schedule pictures to printed words (i.e., derived textual control). Twopreschoolers with autism were taught to select pictures and printed words given their dictatednames. Following training, participants could respond to printed words by completing thedepicted task, match printed words to pictures, and read printed words without explicit training(i.e., emergent relations).

DESCRIPTORS: activity schedules, autism, conditional discrimination, derived stimulusrelations, stimulus equivalence

_______________________________________________________________________________

Activity schedules are commonly used to cuechildren diagnosed with autism to perform tasksindependently (McClannahan, MacDuff, #038;Krantz, 2002). Activity schedules usually consistof binders with one picture per page thatchildren are taught to open, turn the pages, lookat the pictures, and engage in the correspondingtask (MacDuff, Krantz, #038; McClannahan,1993; McClannahan #038; Krantz, 1999). Whenchildren start learning to read, it may bedevelopmentally appropriate to replace thepictures with printed words. Although McClan-nahan and Krantz recommend using within-stimulus fading for this task, conditionaldiscrimination training (i.e., matching to sam-ple, MTS) may be a viable alternative fortransferring control from pictures to printedwords in activity schedules (Lalli, Casey, Goh,

#038; Merlino, 1994). One potential advantage ofan MTS procedure is the possibility ofemergence of untaught responses (i.e., stimulusequivalence). If taught to select pictures whengiven the dictated names (AB) and printedwords when given the same dictated names(AC), participants may match pictures andprinted words (BC, CB) and label pictures(BD) and printed words (CD) without directtraining (Sidman, 1994).

Rehfeldt and colleagues have demonstratedthat learning to relate dictated words to theircorresponding pictures and printed words viaMTS discrimination training resulted in accu-rate mands using printed words instead ofpictures (Rehfeldt #038; Root, 2005; Rosales #038;Rehfeldt, 2007). Other emergent relations werealso evident without direct training, includingmatching words to pictures, pictures to words,and naming pictures and words. Sidman (2004)has suggested that matching words and picturesis a prerequisite for reading with comprehen-sion; thus, MTS seems to be an efficient way toteach socially important skills that should beevaluated with children with autism.

The purpose of this study was to evaluate theuse of MTS conditional discrimination trainingto replace pictures with text in activity schedulesof children with autism (i.e., derived textual

Caio Miguel is now at California State University,Sacramento. Heather Finn is now at Cabrillo UnifiedSchool District, Half Moon Bay, California. We thankRebecca McDonald and the staff in the IntensiveInstruction Program at NECC for their onsite support,as well as Danielle LaFrance for her comments on aprevious version of this manuscript. Special thanks go toLinda LeBlanc for her invaluable editorial assistance.

Address correspondence to Caio Miguel, Department ofPsychology, California State University, Sacramento, 6000J Street, Sacramento, California 95819 (e-mail: [email protected]).

doi: 10.1901/jaba.2009.42-703

JOURNAL OF APPLIED BEHAVIOR ANALYSIS 2009, 42, 703–709 NUMBER 3 (FALL 2009)

703

control). Participants who could follow pictureschedules were taught to select pictures andprinted words given their dictated names fol-lowed by an evaluation of their ability to follow atextual activity schedule. Reading comprehensionwas also assessed by testing to see if children couldmatch pictures to printed words (and vice versa)and read the words out loud.

METHOD

Participants

Two 6-year-old children who had beendiagnosed with an autism spectrum disorderparticipated in the study. Ben spoke in three- tofive-word sentences. Dennis spoke in two- tofour-word sentences that were almost all prompt-ed. Both had a very limited sight-word vocabulary(i.e., few correct vocal labels for written words).

Setting and Stimulus Materials

Sessions were conducted in a secluded workarea of the participants’ preschool classroom.Materials included a three ring binder (11.5 cmby 16.5 cm) with one strip of hook-and-looptape on each of six pages (i.e., activity schedule),a stimulus placement board (50 cm by 19 cm)with three strips of hook-and-loop tape, and 12laminated cards (5 cm by 7 cm). The 12 cardsconsisted of six digital photographs of preferreditems and six cards with their correspondingprinted names in Times New Roman 40-pointfont on white backgrounds. All items andpictures had previously been trained in pictureactivity schedules using the procedures outlinedby McClannahan and Krantz (1999). Partici-

pants had previously been taught to tact eachitem and picture with accuracy using aprompt delay procedure. Two sets of preferreditems and activities were identified via prefer-ence assessments (DeLeon #038; Iwata, 1996).Ben’s Set 1 items included a puzzle, a robot toy,and crackers; the Set 2 toys included a shapesorter, a file-folder MTS activity, and chocolatecandies. Dennis’ Set 1 items included a garageplay set, an Etch-a-Sketch, and a MagnaDoodle; the Set 2 items were a wooden pizzaplay set, a pretend medical kit, and chips.

Experimental Design and Measurement

The effects of the MTS conditional discrim-ination training on completion of textualactivity schedules were evaluated using aconcurrent multiple-baseline design across twosets of three pictures and toys. All six wordswere on the schedule in each session buttraining for one three-item set commencedbefore training of the other. In addition, pre-and posttests were conducted to assess emergentstimulus relations. The order of conditions wasas follows: emergent relations pretests, textualactivity-schedule baseline, conditional discrim-ination training, textual activity-schedule post-training, and emergent relations posttests (seeTable 1).

Observers scored whether the presence ofprinted words on the activity schedule (i.e.,derived textual activity control) occasionedcorrect independent completion of an activitythat consisted of looking at a printed word,retrieving the corresponding item from an array(Ben) or bookshelf (Dennis), and either con-

Table 1

Order of Training and Testing Conditions

Condition Relations Trained or tested

Emergent relations pretest CB, BC, CDa TestedTextual activity baseline C task completion TestedConditional discrimination training AB, AC, and mixed TrainedTextual activity posttraining C task completion TestedEmergent relations posttest CB, BC, CD Tested

a A 5 dictated word, B 5 picture, C 5 printed word, D 5 participant’s vocal response.

704 CAIO F. MIGUEL et al.

suming or completing it before flipping toanother page. The percentage of correct inde-pendent responses was calculated by dividingthe number of correct responses by the totalpossible number of responses per set (three).Observers also scored selections and orallabeling responses during emergent relationstests as correct or incorrect. The percentage ofcorrect responses was calculated by dividing thenumber of correct responses by the totalpossible number of responses per block (nine).A second independent observer scored responsesduring 33% and 60% of the sessions for Benand Dennis, respectively. Each trial was scoredeither as an agreement (i.e., identical observerrecord) or a disagreement. Point-by-pointagreement was calculated by dividing thenumber of agreements by the sum of agree-ments and disagreements, and this ratio wasconverted to a percentage. Mean interobserveragreement was 92% (range, 78% to ) forBen and for Dennis.

Procedure

Emergent relations pre- and posttests. Relationsbetween pictures and printed words were testedusing a typical visual-visual MTS task. Theexperimenter presented one stimulus (sle),and the participant was required to point to thesle prior to the presentation of thecomparisons (i.e., observing response). Theexperimenter then presented three comparisonsattached to the stimulus placement board andasked the participant to ‘‘match.’’ Testingoccurred under extinction, in which correctresponses were never reinforced and incorrectresponses or no response for 5 s resulted in thepresentation of the next trial. No additionalinstructions or prompts were provided.

Testing was arranged in nine-trial blocks in apredetermined order in which sles were eachpresented three times and comparison stimuliserved as the correct comparison once on theright, once in the middle, and once on the left ofthe bottom array. Emergent conditional relations

were tested along with a socially importanttopography-based response (i.e., reading aloud).First, printed words served as the sles andpictures served as the comparisons (CB). Next,pictures served as the sle and printed wordsserved as comparisons (BC). Emergent textualbehavior (i.e., reading aloud) in the presence ofprinted words was also tested in nine-trial blocksin which each printed word was presented threetimes with a pointing response and the question,‘‘What is this?’’ (CD). The criterion for evidenceof emergent relations was set at eight of nine(89%) correct trials during a testing block.

Textual activity baseline and posttrainingprobes. All six pictures in the child’s activityschedule were replaced with printed words.Ben’s toys and edible items were placed on atable in front of him. Dennis’ materials werestored on shelves, and he had already learned toretrieve the items. The experimenter presentedthe textual activity schedule and said, ‘‘Time touse your schedule.’’ The experimenter sat on achair approximately 3 m away for data-collec-tion purposes. No adult-mediated reinforce-ment was provided during the session. Eachsession consisted of one presentation of theactivity schedule. The order of presentation ofprinted words varied across sessions. Correctresponses consisted of completing the activitydisplayed in the textual stimulus (i.e., printedword). Session length varied depending on theamount of time required for completing eachactivity or consuming the item, but it neverexceeded 20 min. Although sessions would havebeen terminated if all tasks had not beencompleted within 25 min, this never happened.

Conditional discrimination training. For eachtrial, the experimenter presented the vocalsle (A) followed immediately by the stimulusboard with the three comparisons (i.e., auditory-visual MTS). The experimenter cued responses bypointing to the correct comparison at a series offive progressive delays (0 s, 1 s, 2 s, 3 s, 4 s, andno prompt) after the presentation of the sle.Criterion to progress through prescribed delays

DERIVED TEXTUAL CONTROL 705

Figure 1. Percentage of correct responses during baseline and posttraining textual activity probes (i.e.,correspondence between order of printed activity and engagement in activity).

706 CAIO F. MIGUEL et al.

Figure 2. Percentage of correct responses during emergent relations tests for Stimulus Sets 1 and 2. Emergentrelations consisted of CB (selecting the picture in the presence of the printed word), BC (selecting the printed word in thepresence of the picture), and CD (reading the printed word).

DERIVED TEXTUAL CONTROL 707

was two consecutive nine-trial blocks with eight ofnine correct responses. All correct prepromptresponses resulted in praise and tokens that couldbe exchanged for preferred items at the end of thesession. Incorrect responses (i.e., incorrect selec-tions prior to or after the prompt, no selectionwithin 5 s) resulted in re-presentation of the sametrial at a 0-s delay. Trials were separated with 3-sintertrial intervals. First, the participant matcheddictated words to their corresponding pictures(AB), followed by matching dictated words totheir corresponding printed words (AC). Thenmixed training was conducted with interspersingtrials of the AB and AC relations. The masterycriterion for each relation and the mixed trainingwas two consecutive nine-trial blocks with eight ofnine correct unprompted responses (89% accu-racy).

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Figure 1 depicts participants’ baseline andposttraining performances during textual activ-ity probes. Dennis’ baseline percentage ofactivities completed on both sets was low, andBen’s baseline percentage of activities completedwas variable, with increases in accuracy inbaseline for the Set 2 items as he mastered theSet 1 items (i.e., three of the six activities wereeliminated). These results suggest a lack ofspecific textual control over participants’ behav-ior prior to MTS training. Ben mastered theconditional discrimination tasks in 261 trials forSet 1 and 153 trials for Set 2, and Dennismastered the conditional discrimination tasks in81 trials for Set 1 and 99 trials for Set 2. Duringtraining activity probes, both partici-pants responded accurately across the stimulussets, with a few errors by Ben. These resultssuggest that the conditional discriminationprocedure was effective in transferring controlfrom the pictures to printed words. In otherwords, neither child could consistently follow atext-based activity schedule during baseline butboth could do so after MTS training on relatedskills.

During emergent relations pretests (Fig-ure 2), both participants scored below chancelevels for all relations on Set 1 and Set 2. Higheraccuracy scores occurred for the BC and CBrelations for Set 2 for both participants, butthese relatively high pretest scores were stillbelow the success criterion and were notassociated with effective use of the textualactivity schedules. Emergent relations posttestperformances showed that both participantsmatched words to pictures and pictures towords with at least 89% accuracy. Participantsalso read all printed words without directtraining (CD).

In summary, after learning to match dictatedwords to pictures (AB) and dictated words toprinted words (AC), children with autismresponded to printed words in the same waythat they responded to pictures. In addition,participants matched printed words to pictures(CB) and pictures to printed words (BC) andread the printed words aloud (CD) withoutdirect training. The fact that participants wereable to match pictures to printed words suggeststhat they were responding to the printed wordswith comprehension (Sidman, 1994).

Future research should further evaluate theeffectiveness of the conditional discriminationprocedure and compare it to within-stimulusfading in order to determine which of thesestrategies is more efficient and effective whentransferring the control from pictures to printedwords in activity schedules, as well as whetherstimulus fading would yield any form ofemergent responding.

REFERENCES

DeLeon, I. G., #038; Iwata, B. A. (1996). Evaluation of amultiple-stimulus presentation format for assessingreinforcer preferences. Journal of Applied BehaviorAnalysis, 29, 519–533.

Lalli, J. S., Casey, S., Goh, H., #038; Merlino, J. (1994).Treatment of escape-maintained aberrant behaviorwith escape extinction and predictable routines.Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 27, 705–714.

708 CAIO F. MIGUEL et al.

MacDuff, G. S., Krantz, P. J., #038; McClannahan, L. E.(1993). Teaching children with autism to usephotographic activity schedules: Maintenance andgeneralization of complex response chains. Journal ofApplied Behavior Analysis, 26, 89–97.

McClannahan, L. E., #038; Krantz, P. J. (1999). Activityschedules for children with autism: Teaching indepen-dent behavior. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House.

McClannahan, L. E., MacDuff, G. S., #038; Krantz, P. J.(2002). Behavior analysis and intervention for adultswith autism. Behavior Modification, 26, 9–27.

Rehfeldt, R. A., #038; Root, S. L. (2005). Establishing derivedrequesting skills in adults with severe developmentaldisabilities. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 38,101–105.

Rosales, R., #038; Rehfeldt, R. A. (2007). Contrivingtransitive conditioned establishing operations toestablish derived manding skills in adults with severedevelopmental disabilities. Journal of Applied BehaviorAnalysis, 40, 105–121.

Sidman, M. (1994). Equivalence relations: A research story.Boston: Authors Cooperative.

Received March 21, 2008Final acceptance September 8, 2008Action Editor, Linda LeBlanc

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