From Autism Research

Assessing the Function of Stereotypy in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

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.

Center for Autism and Related Disorders Receives Social Skills Research Grant

San Diego, CA | December 19, 2011 – The National Foundation for Autism Research (NFAR) has awarded the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) a Community Project Grant to conduct a randomized trial of a playgroup for teaching social skills to children with autism spectrum disorders. Twenty-four children, ages five to seven, will learn critical social skills, such as sharing, turn-taking, initiating play, joining play, and maintaining play over the course of a 12-week program called Creating Opportunities to Meet Peers and Advance Social Skills (The COMPASS Project). The study will take place at CARD’s San Diego location with no cost to participants.

CARD Researchers Publish On Challenging Behavior

We are happy to announce the publication of “The Handbook of High-Risk Challenging Behaviors in People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.” CARD researchers Jonathan Tarbox, PhD, Amy Kenzer, PhD, and Michele Bishop, PhD, wrote the chapter on “Ruminative Vomiting,” a severe behavior that can have major health consequences if not treated rapidly and effectively. When children with autism ruminate, they voluntarily regurgitate into their own mouths, re-chew the food, and then re-swallow it.

A Deeper Look Into Tantrums

My hope is to draw your attention to Dr. Potegal’s recent claim that a tantrum may be a new scientific concept. Are we really clueless as to what tantrums are or should we continue to focus on such studies? The response is beyond this post, but it might serve to encourage behavior analysts to better disseminate ABA and its science, which has existed for close to 50 years.

Popular Cartoon Found to Have a Negative Effect on Executive Function in Children

Participants included 60 four-year-old children,. The participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups. Each group participated in a different activity for the duration of nine minutes. The first group watched “a very popular fantastical cartoon about an animated sponge that lives under the sea,” clearly referring to SpongeBob SquarePants. The second group watched “a realistic Public Broadcasting Service cartoon about a typical US preschool-aged boy,” rumored to be Caillou. Finally, the third group colored with crayons and markers. Immediately following the activity, participants were administered a number of tasks that measured executive function.

Can Brain Scans Discriminate Children with Autism from Children with Typical Development?

In a recent study, Dr. Lucina Uddin and colleagues found magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to accurately differentiate children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) from children with typical development based on volumes of gray matter in specific regions of the brain. While previous MRI studies have identified differences in the brain scans of children with ASD and children with typical development, there has been no real consensus regarding which distinctive neurological features can serve as reliable biological markers in the detection of ASD. This may stem from the fact that ASD is a heterogeneous disorder that likely affects the development of many areas of the brain. For this reason, Dr. Uddin and colleagues used MRI scans in an attempt to identify brain regions that together may differentiate children with ASD from children with typical development.

Greater Risk of Autism and Schizophrenia in the Offspring of Older Fathers

A recent study conducted by Dr. Flatscher-Bader and colleagues may shed light on why children with older fathers face an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). A significant body of research has revealed that offspring of older fathers are at a greater risk of developing disorders such ASD and schizophrenia; however, the underlying cause of this occurrence is not well understood. For this reason, Dr. Flatscher-Bader and colleagues used a rodent model to investigate the effects of paternal age on offspring’s genes.

Training Behavioral Therapists to Administer Brief Preference Assessments

In a recent study, CARD Researchers Dr. Michele Bishop and Dr. Amy Kenzer found group classroom training to be effective in teaching behavioral therapists to administer brief preference assessments to children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). A major component of applied behavior analysis (ABA) treatment is the delivery of preferred stimuli as reinforcement. Therefore, preference assessments are conducted to identify highly preferred stimuli. Such assessments ought to be conducted frequently since a child’s preferences may change. For this reason, Dr. Michele Bishop and Dr. Amy Kenzer set out to evaluate the effectiveness of classroom training in teaching behavioral therapists to administer brief preference assessments to children with ASD during therapy sessions.

Behavioral Intervention to Increase Compliance with Liquid Medications

In a recent study, CARD researchers Averil Schiff, Dr. Jonathan Tarbox, Taira Lanagan, and Peter Farag found behavioral intervention to increase compliance with liquid medications in a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Children with ASD often have trouble taking medications in both pill and liquid form. For this reason, CARD researchers set out to evaluate the effectiveness of behavioral intervention in improving compliance with liquid medications in a child with ASD.