Increasing communicative mand topographies : an evaluation of the use of a lag reinforcement schedule embedded in a functional communication training treatment package
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Invariant responding among individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is problematic and can be pervasive across all areas of development. Individuals with ASD demonstrate difficulty communicating wants and needs and often engage in challenging behavior in order to get needs met. Functional communication training (FCT) is one approach for mediating challenging behavior by teaching individuals a communicative response that is functionally equivalent to the demonstrated challenging behavior. However, individuals are often taught a single communicative response (e.g., vocal approximations) that may be unintelligible to the naïve listener and challenging behavior may resurge as a result of a communication breakdown. Recently, the evaluation of lag schedules of reinforcement has shown that it is possible to reinforce operant variability during instruction. Increasing communicative variability for individuals with ASD may decrease the likelihood of resurgence of challenging behavior by providing a broader repertoire of socially appropriate communicative responses that contacted reinforcement through the use of a lag schedule of reinforcement. The purpose of the present study was to evaluate the effect a lag schedule of reinforcement on communicative variability in three individuals with ASD. In this study, communication was reinforced on either a Lag 0 (or FR1 concurrent) schedule of reinforcement, or a Lag 1 (e.g., responses contacted reinforcement only if the response differed from the previous communicative response). Functional analyses were conducted for each participant to determine variables maintaining challenging behavior, all participants were given a mand topography assessment to evaluate mand topography proficiency, and a lag schedule evaluation was conducted. Results showed that increasing the lag schedule of reinforcement from Lag 0 to Lag 1 increased communicative mand topographies for all participants. Results further showed a significant reduction in challenging behavior as compared to baseline conditions contingent on implementation of the FCT package.