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Megan Morien, John W. Eshleman, Ed.D, BCBA-D & Susan K. Malmquist, Ph.D, BCBA-D Copyright © 2010 by Megan Morien
Many children diagnosed with autism possess a limited verbal repertoire, though sign language has been shown to be an effective method for teaching many such verbal skills (Clarke,
Remington & Light, 1968; Sundberg & Partington, 1990/1998; Thompson, Tincani, 2004; Wallace, Iwata & Hanley, 2006; Contnoir-Bichelman, McKerchar, & Dancho, 2007).
Sundberg and Partington (1990) in particular reported that when teaching individuals with developmental delays, sign language training can be acquired at a faster rate and with more accurate responding compared to other non-vocal methods of communication (e.g., pointing to pictures). Given that sign language entails quick hand movements, delivering immediate reinforcing consequences following a response sometimes may prove difficult. A delay in the presentation of a positive reinforcer may inadvertently provide reinforcement to an unintended behavior, or attenuate the reinforcing effects of the delayed consequence.
Response-reinforcement essentially indicates that “the longer the delay between the response and the reinforcement, the less effective the reinforcement will be in increasing the future frequency of the reinforced behavior” (Michael, 2004, p. 30). To bridge the gap between an organism emitting a target behavior and the presentation of reinforcement, the field of animal research has experienced much success using auditory stimuli as conditioned reinforcers (i.e., clicker training) (Pryor, Hagg, & O’Reilly, 1969;
Ferguson & Rosales-Ruiz, 2001; Fjellanger, Andersen, & McLean, 2002; Pryor, 1999, 2005).
Teaching by Acoustical Guidance (TAG) represents an extension of clicker training that uses an auditory marker (e.g., click, chirp, ping, and trill sounds) to bridge the gap between the desired response and the presentation of reinforcement to assist in the learning of new behaviors in humans (Ueda, 2006; Gutierrez, 2007; Maendler, Wasano, 2008;
Eshleman & Cihon, 2009; Vargas, 2009).
TAG can provide truly immediate consequences following a given movement.
Participants A: 6 year old male with a diagnosis of autism B: 7 year old male with a diagnosis of autism C: 9 year old male with a diagnosis of autism Setting Empty classroom within the school environment Materials The Clicker+™, digital timer, antecedent cards, card easel, adhesive stickers, data sheets, 3 colored shirts, and various preferred items and activities Dependent Variables Independent object-naming signs emitted by participant Total number of prompts presented within session
Experimental Design: Multielement Design TAG: The principal investigator tagged all occurrences of correct signing behavior and presented a backup reinforcer, which includes descriptive praise statements in addition to preferred items or activities. Contingent Reinforcement (CR): Descriptive praise statements paired with preferred items or activities (i.e., back-up reinforcers) were presented contingent upon the occurrence of correct signing behavior. Noncontingent Reinforcement (NCR): The principal investigator provided access to preferred items and general praise statements on a fixed-time schedule of 30 seconds. Procedure 10 signing trials were conducted during each session. Simultaneously visual cues (i.e., picture cards) and vocal commands (e.g., “Sign Fish”) were presented to the participant as antecedents for the target behavior (i.e., sign the corresponding word). If the participant failed to emit the target behavior independently, the prompt assistant provided minimal prompting (i.e., least-to-most).
Collected throughout at least 30% of all sessions
Participant A B C NCR 100% 100% 97.5% CR 97.5% 100% 97.5% TAG 97.5% 98% 100%%
Treatment integrity was assessed during at least 30% of the sessions and totaled 100% across all experimental conditions to ensure that the independent variable (i.e., CR, TAG and NCR) was introduced correctly.
Parents of all participants reported that TAG was an appropriate intervention to use with their children. Teachers of all participants reported that their student’s became more social with staff and peers through the use of appropriate signs, gestures and vocalizations.
Independent Object-Naming Signing Responses
Total number of independent responses emitted by participants per treatment condition Participant A B C Total Treatment Condition NCR 0 26 1 27 CR 3 58 12 73 TAG 14 55 40 109
Total number of prompts presented to participants during each treatment condition Participant A B C Total Treatment Condition NCR 309 266 284 859 CR 288 154 245 687 TAG 285 202 176 663
Total number of prompts presented to participant A during each prompt hierarchy
Total number of prompts presented to participant B during each prompt hierarchy level
Key: HOH-Dark Blue, PM-Red, FM-Green, D2D- Purple, PM-Light Blue, G-Orange
Total number of prompts presented to participant C during each prompt hierarchy level
Key: HOH-Dark Blue, PM-Red, FM-Green, D2D- Purple, PM-Light Blue, G-Orange
The most efficient reinforcement technique would show more prompting in gesture and partial modeling and less in the prompts that require more intrusive assistance (e.g., D2D, FM, PPA and HOH). Overall, the greatest amount of prompts required was in the partial model level. Thus, students required a gesture and partial model prompt prior to emitting the corresponding object-naming response.
Results of the present study are consistent with Maendler et al. (2009), which found TAG to be a more effective and immediate reinforcement method than CR alone or NCR conditions. Participants within the current study achieved more independent response during the TAG and CR conditions, which further supports the importance of delivery of reinforcers. Limitations Number of sessions conducted per week Role of the experimenter Anticipation of participants emitting the correct response Lack of discrimination between conditions Future Research Conduct all conditions per session to create more learning opportunities Prompting most-to-least vs. least-to-most TAGteach™ with different populations, environments or target behaviors Extend to other products: The Clicker+TM, i-Click™, Box clicker, etc.
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