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An evaluation of two emergency procedures to treat severe escape behavior

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Slocum Freeman, Sarah

Vollmer, Timothy

University of Florida


2 years

Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellowship



United States



Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often exhibit problematic behavior in the form of aggression, self-injury, and/or property destruction. A significant proportion of the time, such behavior is maintained by escape (i.e., negative reinforcement). For example, children might learn that instructional activities or self-care activities (e.g., having to take a bath) stop when they display aggression; they then learn to escape by engaging in aggression. Not only do these behaviors reduce the ability of individuals to learn new skills, they also put individuals at risk for serious harm to themselves or others and increase the likelihood of restraint or institutionalization. Behavior analysts must develop treatments that will reduce these behaviors quickly and substantially in emergency situations. The specific aim of this project is to compare two emergency procedures (instructional fading and differential positive reinforcement) to a “business-as-usual” treatment (differential negative reinforcement) to determine the more effective procedure for eliminating the behavior in the short term. With differential negative reinforcement (DNR), individuals are provided with a break if they comply with demands and are physically guided to work through demands when problematic behavior occurs. With instructional fading, no demands are placed on the individuals initially so they have no reason to engage in problematic behavior. After some time, the amount of work required is slowly and systematically increased. With differential positive reinforcement (DPR), a small edible item or other preferred item is provided in exchange for compliance with instructions. All three of these procedures have been shown to be effective at reducing problematic behavior maintained by escape to some extent. That being said, instructional fading and DPR have not been directly compared to DNR (i.e., the business-as-usual treatment) to evaluate whether those emergency procedures are best for reducing behavior immediately and to a greater extent in the short term. This project will compare a group of individuals who receive DNR to a group who receives these emergency procedures to treat escape behavior. This work will result in empirical evidence regarding what procedure(s) represent the best intervention(s) for individuals with ASD when faced with a crisis situation requiring immediate suppression of dangerous escape behavior.

Behavioral/ Psychosocial/ Educational, Applied Behavior Analysis, Treatment/ Prevention, Children (3-12 Years), Adolescents/ Young Adults (13-25 Years), Autism Spectrum Disorder, Aspergers/ High-Functioning Individuals With ASD, Low-Functioning/ Non-Verbal Individuals With ASD

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