Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


Sixth Annual Autism Conference; Philadelphia, PA; 2012

Event Details

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Invited Paper Session #9
CE Offered: PSY/BACB

Pain and Challenging Behavior: Implications for Applied Behavior Analysis and Autism

Saturday, January 28, 2012
10:30 AM–11:30 AM
Grand Ballroom
Area: AUT; Domain: Applied Research
Instruction Level: Intermediate
CE Instructor: Frank J. Symons, Ph.D.
FRANK J. SYMONS (University of Minnesota)
Frank Symons, Ph.D., is professor of special education and educational psychology in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Symons�s research emphasizes understanding the severe behavior challenges of children and adults with special needs, primarily those with developmental disabilities and emotional or behavioral disorders. For these two groups, much of his research has focused on self-injurious behavior and classroom aggression, respectively. His two current general areas of interest are 1) the development, assessment, and treatment of behhavioral challenges among children and adults with a range of neurodevelopmental and emotional/behavioral disorders and 2) the problem of pain among children and adults with significant intellectual impairments and associated developmental disabilities. In terms of problem behavior, areas of specific research interest include a) characterizing self-injurious behavior in more detail descriptively (form, location, intensity) and experimentally (function); b) examining the intersection of behavioral and biological mechanisms underlying chronic self-injury by incorporating sensory (e.g., pain sensitivity, peripheral innervation) and autonomic (e.g., sympathetic/parasympathetic, HPA axis) nervous system variables; and c) translating findings from basic research into treatment applications. In terms of pain, areas of specific research include a) the reliable and valid assessment of pain in children and adults with significant cognitive, communicative, and motor impairments associated with intellectual disability; b) the relation between behavioral and biological variables as markers for altered pain; c) modifying/adapting quantitative sensory testing for individuals with specialized needs; and d) the relation between pain and problem behavior, specifically self-injury. Dr. Symons directs an observational methods lab and is highly collaborative across a number of research groups (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of British Columbia, and Dalhousie University), clinical sites (Gillette Children�s Specialty Healthcare), labs (University of Michigan Peripheral Nerve Lab), and centers (Center for Neurobehavioral Development and Minnesota Center for Pain Research).

Severe problem behavior among individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is a significant public health problem. In addition to individual-level costs including restrictive environments, reduced learning opportunities, and compromised quality of life, there are substantial costs to family, educational, and health systems. The past three decades have seen tremendous advances in behavioral assessment technology and its translation into efficacious and effective behavioral interventions. Despite this, severe problem behavior in the form of self-injury persists for a significant number of individuals. One approach to increasing our scientific understanding of persistent self-injury is to adopt a "biobehavioral" approach that examines relevant environmental determinants in the context of biological systems. Based on this, our group has focused on biological markers relevant to pain and stress. The specific objectives of this presentation will be to 1) provide an overview of the clinical problem of self-injurious behavior (SIB) among individuals with I/DD and ASD, 2) review current findings from ongoing studies trying to bridge the gap between pain-relevant biomarkers and sensory features associated with chronic SIB, and 3) suggest that nociceptive and immune mediated activity may be relevant to unraveling some of the mystery surrounding chronic SIB.

Target Audience:

Certified behavior analysts, behavioral consultants, behavioral therapists, clinicians, educational consultants, psychologists, special education teachers, and individuals working with children with autism or other developmental delays.

Learning Objectives: forthcoming



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