Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Generalization of Mands in Children with Autism from Adults to Peers

Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Generalization of Mands in Children with Autism from Adults to Peers

Article excerpt

Children with autism are characterized by deficits in communication and social skills. Teaching children with autism to mand with adults is a common practice in behavioral interventions and is listed as a necessary skill to be taught in many curricular sequences (Leaf & McEachin, 1999; Lovaas, 1981; 2003; Maurice, 1996; Maurice, Green, & Foxx, 2001; Sundberg & Partington, 1998). Most of these curricular sequences also list manding with peers as a target skill in the area of socialization (Leaf & McEachin, 1999; Maurice, 1996; Maurice, Green, & Foxx, 2001; & Sundberg & Partington, 1998). The designation of these curricular sequences to include manding with adults and manding with peers as separate targets leads one to assume that this skill does not generalize across people, but must instead be specifically taught in each domain.

In contrast, when analyzing the social behavior of typically developing preschool children, Tremblay, Strain, Hendrickson, and Shores (1981) found that, on average, they exhibited one initiation toward a peer every two minutes in an unstructured setting. A later study obtained similar results, showing that non-disabled children initiated with each other an average of five times in a 10--minute session (McGrath, Bosch, Sullivan & Fuqua, 2003). Research investigating the social behavior of children with autism and developmental delays repeatedly indicates impairments in socialization, including initiations toward peers (Guralnick & Weinhouse, 1984; Pierce-Jordan & Lifter, 2005; Stone & Lemanek, 1990).

Many studies have been successful in teaching children with autism to initiate toward their peers using a variety of strategies including the use of a tactile prompt (Shabani et al. 2002; Taylor & Levin, 1998;), script fading (Krantz & McClannahan, 1993), visual supports ( Johnston, Nelson, Evans, & Palazolo, 2003), and peer tutors (Goldstein, Kaczmarek, Pennington, & Shafer, 1992; & Pierce & Schreibman, 1995). Hancock and Kaiser (1996) specifically taught children to mand with their siblings during play and snack times. Similarly, Taylor, Hoch, Potter, Rodriguez, Spinnato, & Kalaigian, (2005) taught children to mand for preferred items with their peers during snack time. The participants in the Taylor et al. study all were reportedly able to mand for preferred items with adults, but did not mand with peers until specifically taught to do so.

Skinner (1957) described the different verbal operants as functionally independent. Establishing one verbal operant does not automatically result in the appearance of another. A word with the same topography may serve several different functions, such as a discriminative function or a reinforcing function. For example, the word or object "drink" may function as a discriminative stimulus which evokes a listener's echoic or tact response, but it may also function by producing a reinforcer when an establishing operation is in effect. Lamarre and Holland (1985) were the first to demonstrate empirically the functional independence of the different but related classes of verbal operants, specifically mands and tacts that were topographically the same. Since then many studies have supported their research by demonstrating that the acquisition of one verbal operant does not necessarily transfer to another class of operant. Namely, the acquisition of a mand repertoire did not generalize to the acquisition of a tact repertoire without direct teaching (Sigafoos, Doss, & Reichle, 1989; Twyman, 1995; Twyman, 1996; Nuzzolo-Gomez & Greer, 2004; & Nirgudkar, 2005).

Given the empirically validated fact that a mand repertoire may not generalize to other verbal operants, it is speculated that the acquisition of a mand repertoire may also fail to generalize across settings and/or people, especially in children with autism who are known to have difficulties with the generalization of skills (Wynn & Smith, 2003; Williams, Carnerero, & Perez-Gonzalez, 2006). …

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