Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Assessment and Treatment of Severe Behavior Problems Using Choice-Making Procedures

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Assessment and Treatment of Severe Behavior Problems Using Choice-Making Procedures

Article excerpt


Choice-making procedures were used to identify response-reinforcer relations during assessment and treatment phases with two preschool-aged children diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder who displayed severe problem behavior in their homes. During the assessment phase, a functional analysis identified that multiple classes of social reinforcers maintained problem behavior for both children. The children's engagement with specific toys, and their time allocation between preferred toys and adult attention, were assessed using choice-making procedures. The results of these assessment procedures showed that both children (a) displayed problem behavior maintained by both positive (access to tangibles) and negative (escape from demands) reinforcement, (b) displayed high engagement levels with specific toys (i.e., demonstrated distinct preferences), and (c) allocated more time to choice conditions that provided access to highly preferred toys than to parent attention. These combined results were used to de velop preliminary treatment packages in which access to positive reinforcement was contingent on the child complying to parent instructions. Treatment probe results indicated that both children showed reductions in problem behavior and increased their compliance to parent instructions. However, the type of reinforcement that appeared to control the children's behavior varied across the two children. One child's behavior appeared to be more sensitive to negative reinforcement, whereas the other child appeared to be more sensitive to tangible reinforcement. These results are discussed relative to viewing behavior as competing choice responses.

DESCRIPTORS: choice making, problem behavior, young children


Choice making refers to the way in which individuals allocate their responding between concurrently available alternatives (Fisher & Mazur, 1997). The variables that influence choices are typically studied via a concurrent operants arrangement in which two or more responses are available at the same time and each response is correlated with an independent schedule of reinforcement (Mace & Roberts, 1993). Investigators have shown that choice allocation is affected by the quality of reinforcement, rate of reinforcement, immediacy of reinforcement, and amount of response effort needed to obtain reinforcement (e.g., Mace, Neef, Shade, & Mauro, 1994; Neef, Mace, & Shade, 1993; Neef, Shade, & Miller, 1994).

As an assessment procedure, choice-making methodologies (e.g., concurrent operants arrangements) have been used to evaluate preferences for specific tangible items or activities (e.g., DeLeon, Iwata, & Roscoe, 1996; Derby et al., 1995; Fisher et al., 1992; Piazza, Fisher, Hagopian, Bowman, & Toole, 1996; Smith, Iwata, & Shore, 1995; Windsor, Piche, & Locke, 1994). Systematic preference evaluations in which an array of stimuli are presented in pairs (Fisher et al., 1992) have been labeled paired- or forced-choice assessments. This assessment method has been demonstrated to result in clearer identification of stimuli that function as reinforcers (e.g., Piazza, Fisher, Hagopian, Bowman, & Toole, 1996) than when single stimulus methods are used to identify preferred items (e.g., Pace, Ivancic, Edwards, Iwata, & Page, 1995). Providing choices between stimuli may also approximate natural situations where individuals have the opportunity to select between several items or activities (Northup, George, Jones, Broussar d, & Vollmer, 1996).

As a treatment strategy, investigators have incorporated choice-making procedures into intervention programs to reduce problem behavior (e.g., Homer & Day, 1991; Peck et al., 1996; Piazza et al., 1997). In these programs, therapists manipulated one or more dimensions of reinforcement (e.g., rate, quality, and delay) to bias individual responding toward a targeted appropriate response. …

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