Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 525-538

First online:

Producing speech use in nonverbal autistic children by reinforcing attempts

  • Robert L. KoegelAffiliated withSpeech and Hearing Center, University of California
  • , Mary O'DellAffiliated withRio School District
  • , Glen DunlapAffiliated withMarshall University

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It has been extremely difficult to teach speech to severely handicapped nonverbal autistic children. However, an overview of the literature suggests the possibility that selecting aspects of motivation as a central target behavior, rather than concentrating on motor speech production per se, may improve the effectiveness of teaching speech to these children. Therefore, the purpose of this experiment was to compare two different reinforcement conditions; one in which successive motor approximations of speech sounds were reinforced; and a “motivation” condition in which attempts to produce speech sounds were reinforced, without any motor shaping of speech. The results, replicated within a repeated reversal disign, showed that reinforcing speech attempts was more effective than reinforcing motor speech sounds with respect to (a) the children's interest, enthusiasm, happiness, and general behavior during treatment; and (b) improvements in the children's speech production. The results are discussed in terms of their relationship to the literature on normal parent-child speech interaction, success and failure, and learned helplessness.