Use of Music in the Applied Behavior Analysis Verbal Behavior Approach for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: The purpose of this article is to explore the use of music in treating children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) within Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Verbal Behavior (VB) approaches and to augment the understanding of empirical mechanisms of language training techniques with music. The author describes the theoretical orientation and major principles of ABA VB approach that resulted from Skinner's analysis of verbal behavior for language training. Music's suitability for incorporation with ABA VB approach is demonstrated in terms of its functions as an automatic reinforcement. Musical stimuli as antecedent variables of verbal behaviors including motivational variables (i.e., establish operation), verbal stimuli, verbal prompts and nonverbal stimuli are presented. This article provides the theoretical and clinical implications for the use of music in ABA VB training by presenting various strategies for using music in language assessment and training. These clinical implications include an example of a music therapy language training session protocol with various interventions that can enhance verbal and nonverbal communicative behaviors in young children with ASD.

Communication deficits are among the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorders (ASD); therefore, the development of communication skills is critical to treat this syndrome as early as possible (Paul, 2008). Communication difficulties typically are compounded by significant impairments in social interaction and appropriate behaviors. Researchers state that children may use aberrant behaviors for communication purposes when they lack the appropriate skills to communicate (Chung, Jenner, Charberlain, & Corbett, 1995; Sigafoos, 2000). To address both the communication and behavioral needs of children with ASD, researchers and practitioners have investigated numerous interventions and treatment approaches (Mancil, Conry & Haydon, 2009; Koegel, 2000; Paul & Sutherland, 2005). Interventions or treatment approaches for enhancing social communication abilities for children with ASD vary greatly; they range in a continuum from traditional discrete trials to more contemporary behavioral approaches that utilize naturalistic language teaching techniques to developmental approaches (Goldstein, 2002; Paul & Sutherland, 2005; Wetherby & Woods, 2008).

The National Research Council Committee (NRC) (2001) recommended that educational approaches should address the core deficits faced by children with ASD and that meaningful outcome measures must address two areas: (1) gains in initiation of spontaneous communication in functional activities; and (2) generalization of gains across activities, interactions (adult and peer), and environments. The NRC also identified six instructional priorities which include (1) functional, spontaneous communication; (2) social instruction in various settings; (3) teaching of play skills focusing on appropriate use of toys and play with peers; (4) instruction leading to generalization and maintenance of cognitive goals in natural contexts; (5) positive approaches to address problems behaviors; and (6) functional academic skills when appropriate (NRC, 2001; Prizant & Wetherby, 2005). Collectively, social communication and functional language abilities are regarded as the most critical areas to address in supporting the development of individuals with ASD. It is also critical to develop and implement effective interventions which fulfill the instructional priorities of each individual with ASD (Koegel, 2000; Prizant & Wetherby, 2005).

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is based on strong and coherent science and extensive empirical research that is the basis for the technologies and procedures used with individuals with ASD. The application of ABA technologies for language training is commonly called verbal behavior (VB). ABA VB has contributed substantially to the treatment of children with autism by gains and results from B. …


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