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Behavioural fluency for young children with autism

Bonser, David J. (2002) Behavioural fluency for young children with autism. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Fluency is functionally defined by: skill retention after a period without practice; skill endurance over longer intervals than encountered during practice; skill stability in the face of distraction; a performance that can be effortlessly applied to new environments; and a skill that adduces easily with other skills to form new repertoires (RESAA). Precision Teachers have found that fluency can be promoted by building the frequency of an accurate response to high rates.

Young children with autism often fail to achieve RESAA outcomes from accuracy-based discrete trial training and may benefit from frequency-building instruction. However, a lack of published empirical support has meant that many behavioural educators have resisted adopting these strategies. The purpose of the current study was to determine if frequency-building procedures will promote the fluent skill development of tasks encountered on many early intervention programs for 12 young children with autism.

The data showed that imitation, line tracing, drawing, simple addition, and phoneme reading skills taught to young children with autism achieved RESAA outcomes and responded to frequency building procedures in ways that were consistent with non-autistic populations. Secondly, frequency-building imitation to a rate-based fluency aim produced far greater gains on measures of generalised, imitation than using discrete trial training to an accuracy-based mastery criterion alone. Thirdly, increases in the rate of performance under frequency-building conditions positively predicted increases in the quality and quantity of applications, adductions, and skill generalisation for most skills. Fourthly, more exemplars are preferable to few during frequency-building practice. Fifthly, gross motor imitation, a controlled-operant task by definition, was modified and practiced to rates high enough to achieve RESAA criteria. Finally, discrete trial training was as effective as frequency-building when matched for reinforcement and practice, however was less efficient and rated less enjoyable by 5 children without developmental disabilities.

The findings were consistent with behavioural fluency predictions and support the inclusion of frequency building strategies to promote skill fluency for young children with autism.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Psychology
Supervisor(s): Birnbrauer, Jay
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