Using arbitrary reinforcers to treat the off-topic speech of an individual with autism

Document Type




Conference Title

Association for Behavior Analysis International


Denver, CO

Conference Dates

May 25-29, 2017

Date of Presentation



Results from previous research have shown that function-based treatments and those using arbitrary reinforcers are effective for decreasing perseverative speech. However, function-based treatments have shown to be more effective. As a result, it is unclear if or when to use arbitrary reinforcers to treat perseverative speech about restricted topics. We evaluated functional and arbitrary consequences to increase on-topic speech during 5 min conversations: attention, preferred topics, and preferred items. A reversal design was used to demonstrate experimental control across the differential reinforcement contingencies. Providing contingent attention alone or in combination with preferred topics did not improve the participant’s on-topic speech. Providing access to preferred items contingent on on-topic speech did demonstrate to be effective in improving behavior. However, additional treatment components should be considered to condition attention as a controlling variable for on-topic speech. Generalization of treatment effects was assessed and measures of social acceptability were collected from the participant’s mother.

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