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.


11th Annual Autism Conference; San Juan, Puerto Rico; 2017

Event Details

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Invited Symposium #4
Teaching Complex Language and Cognition to Individuals With Autism
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
8:30 AM–10:20 AM
San Juan Grand Ballroom
Area: AUT; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Ruth Anne Rehfeldt (Southern Illinois University)
CE Instructor: Ruth Anne Rehfeldt, Ph.D.

Decades of research in applied behavior analysis have produced a well-established technology for teaching basic verbal skills to individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Behavior analysts often struggle with the development of instructional protocols for teaching more sophisticated verbal and cognitive skills, however. Research in the area of relational responding has inspired such protocols in recent years, such that a technology for programming for complex repertoires of generative responding is now available. This symposium will feature four prominent researchers in the areas of verbal behavior and Relational Frame Theory who will describe their ongoing research programs on complex language and cognition in individuals with autism spectrum disorder. R. Douglas Greer of the CABAS Schools will discuss the relationship between verbal and social behavior, describing specifically the role of a hierarchy of acquired reinforcers. Dr. Mark Dixon of Southern Illinois University will present research on the assessment of relational learning deficiencies in children with autism spectrum disorder and the use of standard treatment protocols for the remediation of those deficits. Ian Stewart of the National University of Ireland, Galway will discuss his research on the assessment and treatment of derived relational responding deficits as a means of promoting adaptive behavior and generative responding. Jonathan Tarbox of First Steps for Kids will share his research on the assessment and treatment of executive functioning skills, with a special focus on problem solving and flexibility.

Instruction Level: Basic
Target Audience:

Certified behavior analysts, licensed psychologists, graduate students.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) describe how multiple exemplar training can be used to increase flexibility in children with ASD; (2) describe how multiple exemplar training can be used to teach problem solving skills to children with ASD; (3) descibe how verbal behavior is social behavior; (4) describe how verbal behavior developmental cusps change what can be taught and accelerate rates of learning; (5) describe how the learned or conditioned social reinforcers determine motivating conditions for being social and verbal; (6) explain why emitting the topography of social verbal behavior, as a function of a reinforcer that is not the automatic social reinforcer, is the wrong operant; (7) how building social/verbal reinforcers result in real social behaviors.

Assessing and Training Derived Relational Responding in Children With Autism

IAN T. STEWART (National University of Ireland, Galway)

Early intervention allows many individuals with autism to develop a generative language repertoire in which they can readily understand and produce totally novel linguistic constructions. In many other cases, individuals continue to require intensive teaching and exhibit language repertoires that are rigid or rote. Research on derived relational responding (DRR), including derived equivalence as well as other patterns (e.g., distinction, opposition, comparison, etc.), suggests that focusing on DRR can help remediate such deficits and establish and strengthen generative language and intellectual potential. Using relational frame theory (RFT) as a background, the current presentation will consider studies on equivalence and other varieties of DRR that demonstrate strong links between the capacity for DRR and linguistic and cognitive performance and that not only illustrate generativity via already established repertoires of DRR but suggest the capacity for DRR itself to be trained and the potential outcomes of doing so.

Ian Stewart received his Ph.D. from the National University of Ireland, Maynooth (NUIM) in 2001. After spending one additional year doing postdoctoral research, he was appointed to the School of Psychology at NUI Galway in August, 2002. His research focuses on the investigation of derived relational responding as a core skill underlying human language and complex behavior and he has published over 70 peer reviewed journal articles and contributed to several books and book chapters in this area. One key strand of his work has involved developing and testing procedures for assessing and training derived relational responding in children with autism and other forms of developmental delay as a means of promoting generative language and adaptive functioning.

Key Social Reinforcers for Social and Verbal Development

R. DOUGLAS GREER (Columbia University Teachers College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences)

Many of the key components for advancing verbal and social development have been identified in research, as have several protocols to establish missing development. This presentation will outline a few of these and explain how each of these is related to learned social reinforcers. Verbal behavior is social and social behavior is verbal. The foundations for social and verbal behavior consist of a hierarchy of learned reinforcers.

Dr. R. Douglas Greer is Professor of Psychology and Education at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Teachers College of Columbia University where he heads the MA and Ph.D. programs in behavior analysis and the education of students with disabilities. He has served on the editorial boards of 10 journals, published over 200 research and theoretical articles in more than 20 journals and is the author of 13 books in behavior analysis. Two of his most recent books are translated into Korean, Spanish, and Italian. Greer has sponsored 216 doctoral dissertations taught over 2,000 teachers and psychologists, originated the CABAS model of schooling used in the USA, Ireland, Italy, England and founded the Fred S. Keller School ( He has done basic and applied experimental research in schools with students, teachers, parents, and supervisors as well as pediatric patients in medical settings. He and his colleagues have identified verbal behavior and social developmental cusps and protocols to establish them when they are missing in children. He is a recipient of the Fred S. Keller Award for Distinguished Contributions to Education from the American Psychology Association, a Fellow of the Association for Behavior Analysis International, recipient of May 5 as the R. Douglas Day by Westchester County Legislators. He has served as guest professor at universities in China, Spain, Wales, England, Japan, Korea, India, Ireland, Italy, USA, and Nigeria

Moving Beyond Skinner's Basic Verbal Operants to Promote the Emergence of Advanced Knowledge in Persons With Autism Using Relational Frame Theory

MARK R. DIXON (Southern Illinois University)

Within the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA), there are a variety of specific techniques which can be utilized to improve the verbal abilities of children with autism. Until recently, most ABA treatments have been based on traditional Skinnerian approaches to language and understandings of behavior. Such ABA has accomplished fantastic things, and countless children with autism have benefited. However, more careful exploration of the types of skills targeted, the repertoire depth, and the sophistication of cognitive abilities reveal that these sorts of ABA techniques can be improved upon. Furthermore, an unexpected side effect of developing language and cognition for persons with autism is that once the children begin to close developmental gaps, the same worries, anxieties, and fears that plague their neurotypical peers start to emerge. When such a child expands their ability to think abstractly, the troubles of the world (both real and perceived) come into play. In this presentation a conceptual foundation will be discussed which suggests that the most functional account of language can be found in contemporary behavioral approaches such as relational frame theory. A series of studies will be presented which showcase how to first assess a child for relational language deficits, and then how to link the results of the assessment to standardized treatment protocols.

Dr. Mark R. Dixon, BCBA-D, is professor and coordinator of the Behavior Analysis and Therapy Program at Southern Illinois University. His interests include the study of complex operant behavior, gambling behavior, and organizational behavior. Mark has published 3 books and over 100 peer reviewed journal articles. He has served as associate editor for Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis and Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, the editor for the Analysis of Gambling Behavior, and a reviewer for over 20 nonbehavioral journals. Dr. Dixon has generated over 1.5 million dollars in funding to infuse behavior analysis within local schools and treatment facilities, and create a behavioral therapy clinic for persons suffering from problem gambling or obesity. Mark's research and/or expert opinions have been featured in Newsweek, Time, The New York Times, National Public Radio, This American Life, a New York Times best seller, and regional affiliates of ABC, CBS, and PBS.

Recent Research on Teaching Executive Function Skills to Children With Autism

JONATHAN J. TARBOX (FirstSteps for Kids), Lisa J. Stoddard (FirstSteps for Kids, Inc.)

Ample empirical research has demonstrated the effectiveness of behavioral intervention procedures for decreasing challenging behaviors and establishing relatively simple skills. Significantly less research has been published on teaching children with autism complex verbal behavior and skills referred to as "cognitive" by the general psychology and educational communities. Executive functioning is a skill domain that is documented to be delayed in many individuals with autism but has been the subject of very little skill acquisition research. This presentation proposes a radical behavioral basis for the assessment and treatment of executive function skills and presents data from recent studies on establishing problem solving skills and flexibility in children with autism.

Dr. Tarbox is the Director of Research and Regional Clinic Director at FirstSteps for Kids, in the greater Los Angeles area. Dr. Tarbox has published two books on autism treatment, as well as over 60 peer-reviewed articles and chapters in scientific texts. Dr. Tarbox is a past member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis and Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders and a current member of the editorial boards of The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, Behavior Analysis in Practice, Behavioral Development Bulletin, and Behavior Modification. Dr. Tarbox’s research interests include teaching complex language, social, and cognitive skills, as well as the assessment and treatment of feeding disorders and severe challenging behaviors.



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