Factors Affecting the Generalization of "wh-" Question Answering by Children with Autism
Barthold, Christine Hoffner
Egel, Andrew L
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The purpose of this study was to examine whether Relational Frame Theory (Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, & Roche, 2001b) could be applied to increase generalization of "wh-" question answering (e.g., what, why, how) by children with autism. Students (N=6) from two self-contained classrooms for children with autism were taught to answer "wh-" questions in the presence of magazine pictures, pictures from storybooks, and actions in the natural context depicting a scenario related to the question asked. Generalization to novel questions was then assessed. If students were not able to answer generalized "wh-" questions to criterion, a matching-to-sample procedure with exclusion was used to increase associations between stimuli. A multiple probe design across subjects was used for this study. A baseline of "wh-" question answering, matching to sample, and receptive identification of answers to questions were conducted prior to training. In addition, students were observed in the classroom environment prior to training. A descriptive analysis of their verbal behavior, in which antecedents, student responses, and consequences were recorded, was conducted to determine the students' verbal behavior ability in the absence of a particular training program. Two students, one in each school, were able to generalize to novel "wh-" questions after training. Both of these students were able to spontaneously tact items and had a higher number of tacts in relation to mands in the descriptive analysis. Individuals who did not generalize did not acquire relations using a matching to sample with exclusion procedure. They also emitted either an equal number of tacts and mands during the descriptive analysis or more mands than tacts. Implications for practice include the consideration of waiting to include "wh-" question answering until students are able to emit a high number of spontaneous tacts and possibly early intraverbal behavior such as greetings, the elimination of visual stimuli when teaching "wh-" questions, and the expansion of matching-to-sample goals in behavioral curricula. Suggestions for future research include the continued research into the development of verbal behavior in children with autism, refinement of matching techniques to teach relations, and expansion of the descriptive analysis of verbal behavior.