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.


33rd Annual Convention; San Diego, CA; 2007

Event Details

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Symposium #373
CE Offered: BACB
Teaching Joint Attention Skills to Children With Autism
Monday, May 28, 2007
10:30 AM–11:50 AM
Douglas A
Area: AUT/DDA; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Rebecca P. F. MacDonald (New England Center for Children)
Discussant: William V. Dube (University of Massachusetts Medical School, E.K. Shriver Center)
CE Instructor: Rebecca P. F. MacDonald, Ph.D.

Joint attention involves the coordinated attention between a social partner and an object in the environment and has been identified as one of the earliest emerging social behaviors in typically developing children. Deficits in joint attention for children with autism have been well documented in the literature. These children fail to orient to speech sounds or social stimuli, show deficits in the ability to follow the gaze of another person and often to use gaze shifts and gestures to initiate joint attention. Interventions based on behavioral teaching approaches have shown the most promise for ameliorating joint attention deficits in young children. A variety of instructional procedures including systematic prompting, shaping and reinforcement have been shown to be effective in teaching responding to joint attention and initiating joint attention. A limitation of this research to date is in the generalization and maintenance of the acquired skills. The purpose of this symposium is to describe several research projects in which the authors are using behavioral interventions to teach joint attention to preschool age children. The implications of these findings will be discussed as they relate to the integration of these skills into the general behavioral repertoires of these children.

Teaching Children with Autism to Initiate Bids for Joint Attention with Peers.
BRIDGET A. TAYLOR (Alpine Learning Group), Hannah Hoch (Alpine Learning Group), Nicole M. Scrivanich (Alpine Learning Group), Rachel Kirk (Alpine Learning Group), Courtney Berman (Alpine Learning Group)
Abstract: Children with autism have deficits in joint attention. Joint attention involves the use of gesture and eye contact to share attention with another person about an object or an observed event. Bids for joint attention can include looking toward an item and shifting gaze between the item and the person, pointing or gesturing toward an item, and displaying or showing an item. Recent research indicates that children with autism can be taught to respond to and initiate bids for joint attention with adults (Taylor & Hoch, 2004). This current study used a multiple baseline design across pairs of peers to assess the effects of video modeling to teach children with autism to initiate and respond to bids for joint attention with their peers. Children with autism were taught to approach a peer, display an item of interest (an unusual or novel toy), to make a declarative statement (e.g., “Wow! look at this”), and to wait until the peer responded with a reciprocal comment (e.g., “That’s funny!”). Results indicated that video modeling was effective in facilitating some of the responses associated with joint attention, but additional prompting procedures were required to promote more subtle responses.
The Role of Social Consequences in the Development of Joint Attention in Young Children with Autism.
REBECCA P. F. MACDONALD (New England Center for Children), William V. Dube (University of Massachusetts Medical School, E.K. Shriver Center), Diana J. Ervin (New England Center for Children)
Abstract: In this paper we will review a contingency analysis of joint attention in which the characteristic gaze shifts, gestures, vocalizations, are shaped and maintained by conditioned socially mediated reinforcers. According to this analysis, joint attention deficits in children with autism spectrum disorders may be related to failures of socially mediated consequences to function as conditioned reinforcers. We will describe a protocol for assessing social reinforcers and intervention procedures based on use of these social consequences to establish joint attention initiations. Joint attention initiations were defined as use of gaze shift, gestures and vocalizations in the context of a target stimulus in the environment. Data from preschool age children with autism spectrum disorder will be reported. Interobserver agreement was high for all behavioral measures. Results will be discussed in the context of the posited behavioral contingency analysis of joint attention.
Does Teaching Approach Matter in Facilitating Joint Attention and Symbolic Play in Young Children with Autism?
CONNIE KASARI (University of California, Los Angeles), Connie Wong (University of California, Los Angeles), Stephanny Freeman (University of California, Los Angeles), Tanya Paparella (University of California, Los Angeles)
Abstract: Acquiring and generalizing new skills can be particularly difficult for children with autism and may be affected by teaching approach, skill domain, and individual child characteristics. In this study, joint attention and symbolic play skills were taught to children with autism using both discrete trial and naturalistic, developmental intervention approaches. Forty-one children with autism (aged 31 to 55 months) were randomized to a joint attention intervention or symbolic play intervention. The intervention procedure first involved structured discrete trials at a table to “prime” children for the targeted goal and then floor play involving naturalistic developmental intervention similar to pivotal response and milieu language interventions. Results indicate that children with autism generally acquire skills with the structured teaching approach first. However, these findings are qualified by interactions between skill domain and teaching approach. Children learning play skills reached mastery first in the structured setting whereas children learning joint attention skills reached mastery at the table and floor at the same time. Children with higher mental and language ages reached mastery faster in structured settings. These results suggest that some skills may be more quickly mastered using specific teaching methods, and should be considered in evaluating the success of a treatment program.



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