, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 525-538

Producing speech use in nonverbal autistic children by reinforcing attempts

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Abstract

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.

This research was supported by Public Health Research Grants No. MH28210 and MH39434 from the National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Education (Special Education Program) Research Contract No. 300-82-0362, and a grant from the California Community Foundation.