Enhancing the effectiveness of a play intervention by abolishing the reinforcing value of stereotypy for children with autism
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Children with autism often experience substantial delays in the development of play behavior. Interventions to teach play skills are often complicated by challenging behavior and stereotypy. Previous research has demonstrated a potential relationship between stereotypy, challenging behavior and play in children with autism. However, few research-based methods for addressing stereotypy and challenging during play interventions are available to practitioners. The purpose of this study was to reduce stereotypy and challenging behavior during a play intervention for five children with autism by adding an abolishing operation component to a common research-based procedure for teaching play skills. The abolishing effect is one of several possible effects of MOs. An abolishing operation is any stimuli or series of events that reduces the value of a particular reinforcer. If an individual has unrestricted access to a particular reinforcer for an extended period of time that stimuli may eventually lose its reinforcing value. Incorporation of the abolishing operation concept into play interventions may allow practitioners to effectively reduce the reinforcing value of stereotypy prior to beginning a play intervention. If the reinforcing value of stereotypy is reduced, then the child may engage in less stereotypy and less challenging behavior when stereotypy is interrupted. By reducing these interfering behaviors, it was hypothesized that a research-based play intervention would be more effective and efficient. The effects of two conditions were compared. In one condition (abolishing operation condition) the child is allowed to engage in stereotypy freely prior to the implementation of an intervention targeting play skills. In the second condition the same play intervention was implemented without the prior free play period. The levels of functional play, symbolic play, stereotypy, and challenging behavior were compared across these two conditions. Results show decreased levels of stereotypy and challenging behavior and increased levels of functional play in the abolishing operation condition. Symbolic play did not occur following either condition.