Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

Emergent Language Responses Following Match-to-Sample Training among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

Emergent Language Responses Following Match-to-Sample Training among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Article excerpt

Two of the early defining features indicative of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), are delays in language development and difficulties in attaining basic communication skills (American Psychiatric Association, 2013; Zwaigenbaum et alii, 2009). Verbal behavior constitute a central part of both a person's life and society in general and lack of these capabilities will constrain the individual from expressing desires and needs and from engaging in socially significant behaviors (Higbee & Sellers, 2011; Sundberg, 2007; Vismara & Rogers, 2010).

Extensive behavioral research supports the notion of verbal behavior as a function of specific environmental experiences that has to be learned by all individuals. Naming theorists (Horne & Lowe, 1996) suggest that in early language development, listener and speaker responses are independent from each other. Therefore, individuals need to experience certain reinforcing consequences in order to learn how to integrate these stimulus functions so that intra-individual behaviors are transformed into meaningful utterances such as naming objects (Crystal, 2006). Research shows that when children learn to transform listener and speaker functions, and thus learn how to form stimulus equivalent relations, this propels more complex verbal behavior (Greer & Longano, 2010). The defining characteristics of stimulus equivalent relations are reflexivity, symmetry and transitivity (Sidman & Tailby, 1982; Sidman 1971). In practice this means that by directly teaching two stimulus relations, four other stimulus relations can emerge without additional teaching. In an applied setting, this could be exemplified as following: if teaching that the spoken word "dog" is the same as a picture of a dog, and the same as the written word dog, then a picture of a dog is the same as the spoken word "dog", the written word is the same as the spoken word "dog" (symmetry), the picture of the dog is the same as the written word, and vice versa (transitivity). Thus, learning how to form stimulus equivalent relations opens up for indirect emergent learning that is of tremendous importance in rapid and advanced language acquisition (McLay, Sutherland, Church, & Tyler-Merrick, 2013; Mudford et alii, 2009; Sidman & Tailby, 1982). The formation of stimulus equivalent relations is however a function of certain experiences that often may be missing in children with ASD and children with language delays (Greer & Speckman, 2009). It is thus of great importance to understand which environmental contingencies to apply to help children with ASD form emergent language responses which are fundamental in complex verbal behavior.

In order to promote the development of language skills among children with ASD specialized methods for preschools, kindergartens and grade schools have been developed utilizing the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA). A well-established method applied for children with ASD is the Lovaas model of Applied Behavior Analysis (1987; 2003), which is a structural model where language skills are broken down into basic components and trained in a sequential manner. The training involves reinforcement procedures of target behaviors, such as match-to-sample training. In a match-to-sample training procedure, children with ASD are explicitly given an environmental experience that reinforces putting different stimuli in relation to each other, such as matching a written word with a picture of an item (Sidman & Tailby, 1982). Previous research shows that children with ASD who undergo match-to sample training in an experimental setting often are successful in learning to form stimuli relations. By applying match-tosample procedures, receptive (identifying stimulus) and expressive (naming stimulus) language responses emerge for some of the participants (Carr, Wilkinson, Blackman & Mcllvane, 2000; McLay, Sutherland, Church, & Tyler-Merrick, 2013; Mudford et alii, 2009). …

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