Academic journal article The International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy

Evaluation of Preference Assessment Procedures for Use with Infants and Toddlers

Academic journal article The International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy

Evaluation of Preference Assessment Procedures for Use with Infants and Toddlers

Article excerpt

Behavior intervention techniques which employ positive reinforcement are effective for promoting skill acquisition and reducing maladaptive behaviors among a wide variety of populations (Akin-Little, Eckert, Lovett & Little, 2004; Ellison, 1997; Lannie & McCurdy, 2007). For such strategies to work, effective reinforcers must be identified. The most effective means for identifying reinforcers is through the use of systematic preference and reinforcer assessments (Hagopian, Long, & Rush, 2004; Logan & Gast, 2001). Preference assessments are techniques designed to identify items that are preferred by an individual and thus may serve as reinforcers. However, preference assessments do not actually assess the reinforcing value of an item. A reinforcer assessment may be used following a preference assessment to determine whether or not a preferred item functions as a reinforcer. Reinforcer assessments are primarily utilized in research to assess the validity of a preference assessment approach, whereas preference assessments are widely used in both research and clinical practice (Hagopian et al., 2004; Logan & Gast, 2001).

Current research indicates that "reinforcers" are widely used with the infant and toddler population. For example, legislative and policy making bodies clearly advocate for early intervention inclusive of children as young as 18 months or younger who exhibit delays in adaptive behavior, communication, and/or social-emotional skills (Chao, Bryan, Burstein,& Cevriye, 2006; Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, 2004; Gresham, Beebe-Frankenberger, & MacMillan. 1999; Webster-Stratton & Reid, 2003). These children may be exposed to intensive intervention programs which often include significant reinforcement components. In addition, young children with feeding disorders typically participate in intensive feeding interventions that require the identification of preferred foods or items to increase food consumption (Piazza, Patel, Gulotta, Sevin, & Layer, 2003). Young children who exhibit early onset severe behaviors disorders (such as self-injurious behavior) are also placed in intensive behavioral programs designed to decrease severe problem behaviors while increasing appropriate communicative responses (Kurtz et al., 2003). Finally, typically functioning infants and toddlers are frequently exposed to reinforcement procedures. For example, reinforcement is often used to teach infants sign language (Thompson, Cotnoir-Bichelman, McKerchar, Tate, & Dancho, 2007; Thompson, McKerchnar, & Dancho, 2004), to enhance toilet training programs (Luxim, Christophersen, & Purvis, 1997), and to increase desirable behaviors in the preschool and daycare settings (Hanley, Cammilleri, Tiger & Ingvarsson, 2007; Layer, Hanley, Heal, & Tiger, 2008). Surprisingly, while the use of reinforcement is reported in many studies examining the effectiveness of intervention techniques with these populations, there is very little research on the validity of the assessment techniques used prior to the development of the intervention. It appears that many decisions are based on clinical judgment rather than empirical evidence. Without the knowledge or understanding of the idiosyncratic nature of the child's preference, we risk designing misaligned interventions during a critical period for the child (Kennedy, 2002).

A large body of research describing valid and reliable techniques to effectively determine reinforcers does exist for other populations such as the developmentally disabled (Hagopian et al., 2004; Logan & Gast, 2001). In fact, the majority of preference assessment techniques currently in use were originally designed for this population (e.g. DeLeon & Iwata, 1996; Fisher et al, 1992; Green et al., 1988; Roane, Vollmer, Ringdahl & Marcus, 1998; Windsor, Piche, & Locke, 1994). Identifying potential reinforcers for the general education population has also received significant attention (e. …

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