Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

An Analysis of Trends regarding Proactive and Ecologically Valid Interventions in Applied Research

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

An Analysis of Trends regarding Proactive and Ecologically Valid Interventions in Applied Research

Article excerpt


Over the last two decades, considerable attention has been devoted to the potential of functional assessment and antecedent-based interventions, as well as to the importance of ecological validity in the evaluation of intervention practices. However, despite this increased interest, it is not clear to what degree trends in intervention research over the past two decades have mirrored this discussion. The current investigation was derived from a database of intervention research from the last 22 years across developmental as well as behavioral disabilities. The study was designed to ascertain to what degree the research literature is reflecting the increased interest in assessment and antecedent-based interventions, and to what extent it is achieving ecological validity by including the participation of typical intervention agents and settings. The results confirm anticipated increases in assessment and antecedent-based interventions, but fail to show evidence of overall increases in ecological validity. Potential implications of these findings, and future research directions, are explored in the discussion.


Until recently, efforts to address problem behavior of students with disabilities relied principally on the use of behavior modification techniques (Sasso, Conroy, Stichter & Fox, 2001). Traditional behavior modification approaches focused primarily on addressing the topography of the behavior and therefore, somewhat predictably, produced limited success in ameliorating the behaviors of concern (Kern, Childs, Dunlap, Clarke, & Falk, 1994; Carr, Robinson, & Palumbo, 1990). Although occasionally reported as effective in limited contexts, many considered these strategies to be intrusive and overly concerned with response suppression without regard for skill development (Dietz, 1978; Hayes, Rincover, & Solnick, 1980; Johnston, 1991).

Over the past two decades the ability to develop effective and positive interventions based on individualized assessment of the function of challenging behavior has advanced significantly (Horner & Carr, 1997; Horner et al., 1990; Lee, Sugai, & Horner, 1999). Although the theory and technology for assessing variables affecting behavior as a means to guide intervention has been in existence for over 30 years (Bijou, Peterson, & Ault, 1968), it was not until the early 1980s that the literature began to embrace the importance of interventions based on the results of these assessments (Iwata, Dorsey, Slifer, Bauman, & Richman, 1982/1994; Iwata, Vollmer, & Zarcone, 1990; Dunlap & Kern, 1993). In more recent years, this preintervention assessment has become more fully linked to a comprehensive approach for addressing challenging behavior, referred to as positive behavior support (Clarke, Worcester, Dunlap, Murray, & Bradley-Klug, 2002; Horner et al., 1990; Koegel, Koegel, & Dunlap, 1996). Since its more formal inception, the impact of positive behavior support (PBS) has been increasingly evident in its mention within the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA; 1997), the numerous discussion papers and manuals published on the topic, as well as the national and statewide initiatives that continue to develop (O'Neill et al., 1997; Carr et al., 2002). The accelerated application of PBS is also revealed in the documented increase in the use of preintervention assessments within the research literature (Carr et al., 1999; Clarke, Dunlap, & Stichter, 2002).

Central to PBS, as well as an integral part of most preintervention assessments, is the specific context of the maladaptive behavior. Increasingly, preintervention strategies, including functional assessment (Freeman, Anderson, Azer, Girolami, & Scotti, 1998; Lucyshyn, Blumberg, & Kaiser, 2000; Clarke, Dunlap & Vaughn, 1999) and structural assessment (Peck, Sasso, & Jolivette, 1997; McComas, Wacker & Cooper, 1996; Jolivette, Wehby & Hirsch, 1999), have demonstrated the benefits of targeting the antecedent variables that set the stage for problem behavior (Luiselli, 1998) as opposed to a pure contingency management approach (Carr, Yardbrough, & Langdon, 1997; Horner, Day, & Day, 1997). …

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