Lerman, D.C., Addison, L. R., & Kodak, T. (2006). A preliminary analysis of self-control with aversive events: the effects of task magnitude and delay on the choices of children with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 39 (2), 227-232.
The purpose of this study was to evaluate behavioral sensitivity to differences in the amount and delay of tasks. The study also included an analysis of factors that might influence self-control after the subjects failed to demonstrate self-control. P 228.
Participants are two 4 year old males, John and Archie. Both are diagnosed with autism and show signs of aggression and disruption. Both subjects communicated vocally using complete sentences and followed three-step instructions. Problem behavior was maintained by escape from demands. John’s sessions took place in an unused room at his school and Archie’s in a therapy room at a university-based early intervention program. Both rooms contained tables, chairs, and materials required for the sessions. P 228.
Dependent variable and measure
The first dependent variable of this study was magnitude, or amount of task. The second dependent variable of this study was delay, and the final dependent variable of this study was self-control.
During the magnitude analysis, each subject had to choose between different amounts of the task, number of puzzle pieces for John and number of letter sounds identified for Archie. During the delay analysis portion of the study, participants were instructed to choose a task requiring completion immediately versus one that had to be completed after a 60 s delay. For the self-control portion of the analysis participants were instructed to choose between a small immediate task and a medium (Archie) or large (John) delayed task.
Participants were asked to choose between two tasks that differed only with the amount of work that was needed to complete the task or the amount of time that passed between the choice response and the start of the task. Reinforcement was delivered for engaging in the choice response. Once the task began instructions were given in a three-step prompting sequence. Praise was delivered on a fixed time schedule. The study sessions each included 5 choice trials and the left-right positions of the tasks or choice cards were alternated each session with two forced-choice trials conducted prior to each session.
The authors did not indicate which experimental design was used.
Generalization and Maintenance
The article does not state how generalization or maintenance was achieved however both participants chose the delayed task over the immediate task and the small task over the larger tasks during initial analysis of magnitude and delay indicating the tasks functioned as aversive events. P 231. Results:
The results showed that the choices of 2 children with autism who engaged in problem behavior maintained by escape from demands were sensitive to differences in the amount and delay of aversive tasks. P 231.
This article was easy to read and the procedure was clearly laid out. This article is important as it proves that commonly used treatments may be more effective if a child’s behavior is less sensitive to the immediate consequence associated with engaging in a requested task. The experiment could also be conducted with task intervals remaining constant rather than varying the delay.