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.


10th International Conference; Stockholm, Sweden; 2019

Event Details

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Symposium #73
CE Offered: BACB
Promoting Early Social Skills in Infants and Children At-Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Fragile X Syndrome
Monday, September 30, 2019
9:00 AM–9:50 AM
Stockholm Waterfront Congress Centre, Level 6, A3/A4
Area: AUT/DDA; Domain: Translational
Chair: Jacqueline Carrow (Caldwell University)
Discussant: Jacqueline Carrow (Caldwell University)
CE Instructor: Jacqueline Carrow, M.S.

We have initiated, replicated, and extended a programmatic line of behavior-analytic research to facilitate and establish early social skills in infants at-risk of developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Infant social engagement responses including vocalizations, echoics, joint attention, and social referencing are considered critical developmental milestones that serve as fundamental prerequisites for early communication and social skills (Pelaez, 2009). Treatment based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has been consistently regarded as the most efficacious treatment for symptoms of ASD, and as such, has been similarly shown to be effective in teaching emerging social skills to infants at risk of ASD. Specifically, the first presenter will briefly identify the early behavioral indicators of at-risk infants, and overview the application of a brief ABA-based parent treatment model for promoting early infant vocalizations and emerging echoic response. The second presenter will examine the acquisition of joint attention and social referencing repertoires via an operant-learning paradigm arrangement among infants at-risk of ASD and Fragile X syndrome. The discussant will comment on these ongoing programs of research on early social skills in at-risk infant populations using ABA, and explore future directions and implications of this research.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): At-Risk, Infants, Social Skills
Target Audience:

Undergraduate; Graduate; Practitioners; Parents

Learning Objectives: 1. Attendees will describe the different early markers and deficits observed among infants at-risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). 2. Attendees will describe the use of operant reinforcement procedures for promoting early infant vocalizations and emergent echoic repertoires. 3. Attendees will describe and operationalize joint attention and social referencing from a behavioral perspective. 4. Attendees will describe the use of operant reinforcement procedures for promoting joint attention and social referencing repertoires.

Social Reinforcement Procedures to Establish Vocalizations and Echoics in Infants At-Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder

(Applied Research)
HAYLEY NEIMY (Shabani Institute & Endicott College), Martha Pelaez (Florida International University), Jonathan J. Tarbox (University of Southern California), Mary Jane Weiss (Endicott College)

Infants who have not yet received any diagnoses often display markers, deficits, and behavioral indicators, that make them “at-risk” of a later ASD diagnosis. Among the hallmark diagnostic criteria of ASD are limitations and impairments in language and communication. Interventions to promote and encourage vocalizations in infants at risk of ASD as early as possible are of utmost priority. The present investigation compares the use of three different operant reinforcers to promote vocalizations, echoic approximations, and echoics with topographical correspondence in three infants at-risk of ASD. The results reliably confirmed findings from similar research (Bendixen & Pelaez, 2010; Pelaez, Virues, & Gewirtz, 2011a and 2011b) that contingent reinforcement procedures are more effective than non-contingent reinforcement procedures. Specifically, the vocal imitation condition reliably produced higher rates and accuracy of all three targeted responses: a) vocalizations, b) echoic approximations, and c) echoics with one-to-one correspondence. Implications of the present study highlight the important role of systematically and contingently arranging the social consequences delivered by the caregiver to promote the vocal behavior of an infant at-risk. Future research and application are discussed in the context of ASD prevention, optimal infant-caregiver environmental arrangements, misplaced contingencies, and the establishment of caregivers as social reinforcers.

Establishing Joint Attention Skills to Facilitate Social Referencing Repertoires in Toddlers via Operant Learning Procedures
(Applied Research)
KATERINA MONLUX (Stanford University; Oslo Metropolitan University ), Martha Pelaez (Florida International University), Jonathan J. Tarbox (University of Southern California)
Abstract: Deficits in social engagement are among the main developmental problems observed among children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). In particular, joint attention and social referencing skills are critical for the development of more complex social interactions. The use of behavioral techniques and brief parent-infant engagement training has shown to be successful in promoting these social skills. We explore the hypothesis that by targeting joint attention and social referencing skills in the natural environment and by using caregivers as therapists we can potentially mitigate and prevent the development of later onset behavior language problems commonly associated with ASD. The current presentation reviews and extends previously published procedures for the training of joint attention and social referencing modeled after Pelaez and colleagues’ (2012) operant learning paradigm. Further, a model for expanding previous findings to the natural environment with a population at-risk of developing ASD and Fragile X syndrome is proposed where joint attending skills can be taught first to aid in the acquisition of social referencing. While very similar social behavior chains, joint attention and social referencing have functional differences, which will be explained.



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