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IES Grant

Title: Concurrent Schedules of Reinforcement and Adjusting Demand Requirements: Effects on Communication, Compliance, and Problem Behavior
Center: NCSER Year: 2006
Principal Investigator: Peterson, Stephanie Awardee: Western Michigan University
Program: Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Competence      [Program Details]
Award Period: 8/1/2006 to 7/31/2009 Award Amount: $515,385
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R324B060007

Previous Award Number: R324B060013
Previous Awardee: Idaho State University

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to develop an intervention for escape-motivated problem behavior. The intervention will teach children to request breaks from demanding tasks and to comply with task requests. Although several interventions (e.g., extinction, differential reinforcement of alternate behavior, functional communication training, demand fading) for escape-motivated problem behavior in individuals with disabilities already exist, each has weaknesses that can limit its utility. An intervention strategy that capitalizes on the strengths of these interventions, but minimizes their weaknesses, is needed.

Project Activities: The researchers are developing a choice-making intervention to be used with children with disabilities who engage in severe problem behavior, such as aggression, self-injury, and chronic noncompliance. Single-subject research designs will be employed to evaluate the effects of providing different dimensions of reinforcement for break requests, compliance, and problem behavior for children who display escape-maintained problem behavior. The study will be conducted in elementary schools (K-6th grade) and participants will be children from a variety of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, ranging in age from 5 to 12 years. Key outcomes will be measured by collecting data on the participants' problem behavior, as well as the number of break requests and tasks completed by the participants. These data will be analyzed by visual inspection of individual participants' graphs and by time series analyses to determine effect size.

Products: The expected outcomes from this study include:

  1. A choice-making intervention for use with children with disabilities who engage in severe problem behavior,
  2. Published reports on the evaluation of the effects of the developed intervention on key outcomes related to the participants' problem behavior, and
  3. A CD-ROM demonstrating the procedures for the developed intervention for use by parents and teachers.

Setting: Three public school districts in southeastern Idaho are participating.

Population: Participants will be elementary aged children, ages 5–12, with disabilities who display problem behavior such as self-injurious behavior, aggression, and severe noncompliance. The study will recruit 12 to 18 students per year during each of the three years of the study for a total of 36 to 54 participants. Children will only be selected to participate if a functional behavioral assessment of their problem behavior indicates that at least one function of their problem behavior is escape from task demands (i.e., students problem behavior is maintained, at least in part, by negative reinforcement).

Intervention: The intervention is a choice-making intervention. When presented with demanding tasks, children will be allowed to choose between completing a portion of the task, requesting a break, or engaging in problem behavior. High quality reinforcement (longer breaks with access to highly preferred positive reinforcers) will be provided for task completion. Moderate quality reinforcement (shorter breaks will access to moderately preferred reinforcers) will be provided for break requests, and low quality reinforcement (brief breaks with no access to positive reinforcement) will be provided for problem behavior. Extinction will not be used.

Research Design and Methods: Single-subject research designs will be employed to analyze the effects of these conditions on the participants' problem behavior, break requests, and task completion. The study will be conducted in several phases. First preliminary assessments will be conducted to determine which participants will be selected for participation and to identify reinforcers for problem and appropriate behavior. Functional communication training will then take place to teach the participants to request access to reinforcement via mands (e.g. communicative gestures). Choice making and stimulus fading analysis will be implemented within single-subject reversal designs to determine the effects of high, moderate, and low-quality reinforcement on target behaviors. Task demands will be increased over time until participants are required to complete and entire task before receiving a high quality break. There will be 4 to 6 children per site to allow for replication and ensure at least three replications of the intervention per site, even if there is study attrition. All sessions will be videotaped using a digital camcorder and scored later for the occurrence of the target behaviors using ProcorderDV software.

Key Measures: The target behaviors are problem behavior, compliance to task requests, mands for breaks, and choice responses. Problem behavior will be defined individually for each participant depending upon the behavior he/she initially displays. Task compliance is defined as the participant beginning a task as prompted by the experimenter within 5 seconds of the prompt and completing the task within the time limit for the task. Mands will be communicative gestures and/or vocalizations such as signs, pointing to picture or work cards, or words that indicate "work" and "break."

Data Analytic Strategy: Data will be analyzed by visual inspection of individual participants' graphs; overall magnitude of changes in the trends, levels, and variability of the target behaviors will be analyzed. In addition, time series analyses will be conducted to compare the data from the escape condition of the pre-intervention functional analysis to the data collected during the final 3 response option condition (post and follow-up) for each individual participant as well as the group of participants to identify if the changes in behavior are statistically significant. Separate t tests will be computed to evaluate the changes in level and trend of the target behaviors across the pre-and post-intervention phases.

Control Condition: In this single case design research, each participant serves as his or her own control.


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Peterson, S.M., Frieder, J.E., Smith, S.L., Quigley, S.P., and Van Norman, R.K. (2009). The Effects of Varying Quality and Duration of Reinforcement on Mands to Work, Mands for Break, and Problem Behavior. Education and Treatment of Children, 32(4): 605–630.