In a recent study, CARD researcher Arthur Wilke and colleagues found stereotypy to be maintained by automatic reinforcement in the majority of children with ASD. Among the core features of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) is the presence of repetitive and restricted behavior, also known as stereotypy. High rates of stereotypy can hinder social interaction and learning in children with ASD. As with any problem behavior, the function that is maintaining a stereotyped behavior must be identified before intervention can occur. Behaviors may be maintained by attention, escape, access to an object, or the behavior itself may be automatically reinforcing. For example, a child may repeatedly slap his hand against a flat surface because he likes the tingling feeling that results. While it is often assumed that the function of stereotypy in children with ASD is automatic, function should never be presumed based solely on the type of behavior. For this reason, CARD researchers investigated the function of stereotyped behavior in children with ASD.
Participants included 53 children and adolescents with ASD, from two to seven years of age.
The function of stereotyped behaviors was determined using the Questions About Behavior Function (QABF). The QABF is an indirect functional assessment, meaning it is conducted via a structured interview with a parent rather than direct observation of the child’s behavior. Using the QABF, a parent of each participant was interviewed about a stereotyped behavior that their child exhibited.
The results of 14 assessments were found to be inconclusive. For the remaining 39 assessments, 90 percent of stereotyped behaviors were found to be maintained by automatic reinforcement.
Using an indirect assessment, CARD researchers found the majority of stereotyped behavior in children with ASD to be maintained by automatic reinforcement. These findings are in line with results of previous studies. Despite the fact that the majority of stereotyped behavior appears to be maintained by automatic reinforcement, functional assessments are still necessary as each child and behavior is different. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that indirect functional assessments may be useful in identifying the function of stereotypy in children with ASD. If an indirect functional assessment like the QABF reveals automatic reinforcement as the function of a stereotyped behavior, further functional evaluation may not be need. This can save clinicians time as well as save funding sources money.
Wilke, A. E., Tarbox, J., Dixon, D. R., Kenzer, A. L., Bishop, M. R., & Kakavand, H. (2012). Indirect functional assessment of stereotypy in children with autism spectrum disorders. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 6, 824-828. doi: 10.1016/j.rasd.2011.11.003