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.


Seventh International Conference; Merida, Mexico; 2013

Event Details

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Symposium #20
CE Offered: BACB
Approach, Avoidance, and Autism
Monday, October 7, 2013
12:30 PM–1:50 PM
Salon Merida (Fiesta Americana)
Area: AUT/EAB; Domain: Applied Behavior Analysis
Chair: David M. Richman (Texas Tech University)
Discussant: Ethan S. Long (Virginia Institute of Autism)
CE Instructor: Iser Guillermo DeLeon, Ph.D.

This symposium will address several areas of recent research for children with autism. The first presentation will address how defining and measuring anxiety in children with autism can be challenging particularly in treatment development. The second presentation will look further into anxiety responses by using neuroimaging to evaluate neural responding to pictures of stimuli that are associated with phobia in two children with autism. The third presentation is based on the demonstration that using a behavioral economics approach one can evaluate the relative value of social and nonsocial reinforcers for children with autism.

Anxiety in Individuals with Autism
LOUIS P. HAGOPIAN (Kennedy Krieger Institute)
Abstract: We define anxiety as a functional response class characterized by avoidance, escape, and increased physiological arousal that is occasioned by stimuli that signal intense punishment. Verbal individuals will self-label this response class using terms such as anxiety and fear. Derived relations can also play a role for these individuals in broadening the range of stimuli that can occasion the anxiety response. Determining the presence of anxiety in persons with autism is particularly challenging because avoidant and repetitive behavior commonly occur in autism, and because communication deficits may make it difficult or impossible for some individuals to describe how they self-label states associated with avoidance. The current symposium will discuss some of the challenges associated with determining the presence of anxiety in persons with autism, as well as methods for assessment and treatment of these behaviors.

Contrasting Neuroimaging Patterns in Two Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Specific Phobia

DAVID M. RICHMAN (Texas Tech University), Wesley H. Dotson (Texas Tech University), Mary J. Baker (Texas Tech University), Michael O'Boyle (Texas Tech University), Kushal Kapse (Texas Tech University), Amanda Bosch (Sam Houston State University), Dan Fang (Texas Tech University), Justin Brough (Texas Tech University)

Research has yet to identify biomarkers in ASD associated with abnormal fear responses that may be associated with increased risk for anxiety disorders such as specific phobias. The purpose of the current study was to examine the neurocircuitry that supports excessive fearfulness in ASD. Two young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder, mild intellectual disability, and Specific Phobia participated in the study. During pre-scanning Subjective Units of Distress Scale ratings of phobogenic stimuli (i.e., bugs and spiders, respectively), Brian engaged in vocal verbal mediation (e.g., its just a picture) while Sean only engaged in avoidance (e.g., looking away, shutting eyes) or startle responses. Both participants were shown (a) phobogenic and (b) neutral pictures in a Skyra T3 MRI scanner. Sean showed increased activation only in the amygdala for phobogenic stimuli. However, Brian exhibited significant activation in the left frontal lobe suggesting verbal mediation in response to phobogenic stimuli. Additionally, Brian demonstrated increased average fractional anisotropy for both the left and right uncinate fasciculus, providing evidence of a higher level of connectivity between the frontal lobes and the amygdala. Implications for future research on pre-post treatment neuroimaging data to better understand biobehavioral mechanisms underlying response to behavioral treatment will be discussed.

The Relative Value of Isolate and Mother-Child Play in Children with Autism: A Behavioral Economic Analysis
ISER GUILLERMO DELEON (Kennedy Krieger Institute), Melissa Goldberg (Kennedy Krieger Institute), Melissa J. Allman (Kennedy Krieger Institute/Hopkins), Michelle A. Frank-Crawford (Kennedy Krieger Institute), Louis P. Hagopian (Kennedy Krieger Institute)
Abstract: Some investigators suggest that social deficits in autism stem from a lack of effectiveness of social interaction as a reinforcer. We compared the reinforcing effectiveness of activities embedded in social and non-social contexts, when the social context involved interaction with the child’s mother, for children with autism and typically developing controls. Seventeen children diagnosed with autism, aged 8 to 10, and 18 typically developing same-aged peers participated. We conducted separate paired-stimulus preference assessments with each child: one consisting of social activities, a second consisting of nonsocial activities and a third preference assessment consisting of the top and bottom 3 social and nonsocial activities identified from the first and second preference assessments. We then conducted progressive-ratio (PR) analyses with the 12 activities included in the combined preference assessment to index their strength as reinforcers. Results indicated that preference and PR break points for social and nonsocial stimuli did not differ across groups. Demand curves generated by calculating the percentage of children that “purchased” the opportunity to engage in an activity alone or with their mother at each value of the PR schedule revealed more elastic demand for isolate play than for mother-child play in the children with autism.



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