methods for teaching adaptive skills include peer tutoring for teaching community living skills (Blew et al., 1985). Additional resources for commonly encountered difficulties include books written for parents on eating disorders (Kedesdy and Budd, 1998) and sleep problems (Durand, 1998).

The books listed above, and similar resources, include suggestions for data collection during baseline planning, implementation and follow-up. The complexity of the data collection procedure will vary according to the challenge of the skills being taught (e.g., bladder control training usually requires very detailed records on successes and failures, while teaching a child to throw away their paper towels may be monitored with one probe). Ongoing assessment typically requires at least some baseline measurement, as well as periodic measures of skill performance during and after intervention. In order to assess the level of independence achieved for a given skill, it is necessary to evaluate the performance of the new skill in conditions of decreasing prompting.


With the exception of research in communication and socialization, there are surprisingly few studies that directly evaluate the use of behavioral interventions to teach adaptive skills to young children with autism. However, there is a body of research on reinforcer potency that is directly relevant to efforts to use behavioral techniques for skill instruction with children with autism. Thus, constant versus varied reinforcement procedures were compared in a study of the learning patterns of three boys with autism, aged 6 to 8 years (Egel, 1981). Using a reversal design, it was shown that correct responding and on-task behavior during a receptive picture identification task increased using varied reinforcers. Satiation for food reinforcers was problematic in conditions in which constant reinforcers were used. Similar results were found in comparing sensory versus edible reinforcers; rewards having sensory properties were found to be less vulnerable to satiation (Rincover and Newsom, 1985). The importance of systematic reinforcer assessment has been demonstrated to improve learning and attention to task, and the use of highly potent rewards on learning tasks has also been shown to yield positive side-effects in terms of substantial drops in levels of maladaptive behaviors (Mason et al., 1989).

A Japanese study reported the first early application of operant conditioning procedures to the toilet training of five 6- to 9-year-old boys with profound mental retardation and “clear signs of autism” (Ando, 1977). Like other early behavioral interventions, aversive consequences (i.e., intense spankings) were prominent, and results of an evaluation using an ABAB reversal design showed inconsistent effectiveness. In

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement