Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 37, Issue 8, pp 1550–1561 | Cite as

Effects of Circumscribed Interests on the Social Behaviors of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

  • Brian A. Boyd
  • Maureen A. Conroy
  • G. Richmond Mancil
  • Taketo Nakao
  • Peter J. Alter
Original Paper


This study compared the effects of circumscribed interests (CI) to less preferred (LP) tangible stimuli on the social behaviors of three children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Based on single subject design methodology, the CI experimental sessions resulted in longer durations of target-child initiated social interactions in comparison to LP sessions. In addition, latency of participant’s initial social bids to peers was decreased when CI were present. The results suggest that embedding CI into dyadic play situations with typical peers can be used to increase the social behavior children with ASD direct toward typical peers. Future research should examine the specific environmental conditions that must be present in naturalistic settings to facilitate generalization of social behavior.


Autism Circumscribed interests Pervasive developmental disorders Restricted interests Repetitive behaviors Structural analysis 



Dr. Boyd conducted this study in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a doctoral degree at the University of Florida. Development of this paper was supported with funding from the US Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (No. H32D990024), awarded to the second author. The opinions expressed by the authors are not necessarily reflective of the position or endorsed by the US Department of Education.


  1. Adams, L. W. (1998). Incorporating narrow interests into school tasks of children with autism. (Doctoral dissertation, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1998). Dissertation Abstracts International, 60(09), 4872 (UMI No. 9943180).Google Scholar
  2. Attwood, T. (1998). Asperger’s syndrome: A guide for parents and professionals. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley.Google Scholar
  3. Axelrod, S. (1987). Functional and structural analyses of behavior: Approaches leading to reduced use of punishment procedures. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 8, 165–178.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baker, M. J. (2000). Incorporating the thematic ritualistic behaviors of children with autism into games: Increasing social play interactions with siblings. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 2(2), 66–84.Google Scholar
  5. Baker, M. J., Koegel, R. L., & Koegel, L. K. (1998). Increasing the social behavior of young children with autism using their obsessive behaviors. Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 23, 300–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bodfish, J. W., Symons, F. J., Parker, D. E., & Lewis, M. H. (2000). Varieties of repetitive behavior in autism: Comparisons to mental retardation. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30, 237–243.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brown, W. H., Odom, S. L., & Buyssee, V. (2002). Assessment of preschool children’s peer-related social competence. Assessment for Effective Intervention, 27(4), 61–71.Google Scholar
  8. Carr, E. G., Carlson, J. I., Langdon, N. A., Magito-McLaughlin, D., & Yarbrough, S. C. (1998). Two perspectives on antecedent control: Molecular and molar. In J. K. Luiselli, & M. J. Cameron (Eds.), Antecedent control: Innovative approaches to behavioral support (pp. 67–86). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.Google Scholar
  9. Charlop, M. H., Kurtz, P. F., & Casey, F. G. (1990). Using aberrant behaviors as reinforcers for autistic children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 23, 163–181.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Charlop-Christy, M. H., & Haymes, L. K. (1996). Using obsessions as reinforcers with and without mild reductive procedures to decrease inappropriate behaviors of children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 26, 527–545.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Charlop-Christy, M. H., & Haymes, L. K. (1998). Using objects of obsession as token reinforcers for children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 28, 189–198.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chinn, H. Y., & Optiz, V. B. (2000). Teaching conversational skills to children with autism: Effects on the development of a theory of mind. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30(6), 569–583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Conroy, M. A., & Stichter, J. P. (2003). The application of antecedents in the functional assessment process: Existing research, issues, and recommendations. The Journal of Special Education, 37, 15–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cuccaro, M. L., Shao, Y., Grubber, J., Slifer, M., Wolpert, C. M., Donnelly, S. L., et al. (2003). Factor analysis of restricted and repetitive behaviors in autism using the Autism Diagnostic Interview-R. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36(6), 601–616.Google Scholar
  15. Epstein, L. J., Taubman, M. T., & Lovaas. O. I. (1985). Changes in self-stimulatory behaviors with treatment. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 13, 281–294.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Horner, R. H., Carr, E. G., Strain, P. S., Todd, A. W., & Reed, H. K. (2002). Problem behavior interventions for young children with autism: A research synthesis. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 32, 423–446.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kazdin, A. E. (1982). Single-case research designs: Methods for clinical and applied settings. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Lewis, M. H., Baumeister, A. A., & Mailman, R. B. (1987). A neurobiological alternative to the perceptual reinforcement hypothesis of stereotyped behavior: A commentary on “self-stimulatory behavior and perceptual reinforcement”. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 20, 253–258.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lewis, M. H., & Bodfish, J. W. (1998). Repetitive behavior disorders in autism. Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 4, 80–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lopez, B. R., Lincoln, A. J., Ozonoff, S., & Lai, Z. (2005). Examining the relationship between executive functions and restricted, repetitive symptoms of autistic disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 35(4), 445–460.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lord, C., Rutter, M., & Le Couteur, A. (1994). Autism diagnostic interview-revised: A revised version of a diagnostic interview for caregivers of individuals with possible pervasive developmental disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 24, 659–685.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lovaas, I., Newson, C., & Hickman, C. (1987). Self-stimulatory behavior and perceptual reinforcement. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 20, 45–68.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mace, F. C., & Lalli, J. S. (1991). Linking descriptive and experimental analyses in the treatment of bizarre speech. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 24, 553–562.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. McIlvane, W. J., & Dube, W. V. (2003). Stimulus control topography coherence theory: Foundations and extensions. The Behavior Analyst, 26, 195–213.Google Scholar
  25. Mesibov, G. B., Shea, V., & Schopler, E. (2005). The TEACCH approach to autism spectrum disorders. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum.Google Scholar
  26. Militerni, R., Bravaccio, C., Falco, C., Fico, C., & Palermo, M. T. (2002). Repetitive behaviors in autistic disorder. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 11, 210–218.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ozonoff, S., & Jensen, J. (1999). Brief report: Specific executive function profiles in three neurodevelopmental disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 29, 171–177.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Ozonoff, S., & Miller, J. N. (1995). Teaching theory of mind: A new approach to social skills training for individuals with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 25, 413–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Peck, J., Sasso, G. M., & Jolivette, K. (1997). Use of structural analysis hypothesis testing model to improve social interactions via peer-mediated interventions. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 12, 219–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Pierce, K., & Courchesne, E. (2001). Evidence for a cerebellar role in reduced exploration and stereotyped behavior in autism. Biological Psychiatry, 49, 655–664.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Reese, R. M., Richman, D. M., Belmont, J. M., & Morse, P. (2005). Functional characteristics of disruptive behavior in developmentally disabled children with and without autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 35(4), 419–428.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Roane, H. S., Vollmer, T. R., Ringdahl, J. E., & Marcus, B. A. (1998). Evaluation of a brief stimulus preference assessment. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 31, 605–620.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Schopler, E., Reichler, R. J., DeVellis, R. F., & Daly, K. (1980). Toward objective classification of childhood autism: Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS). Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 10, 91–103.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. South, M., Ozonoff, S., & McMahon, W. M. (2005). Repetitive behavior profiles in Asperger syndrome and high-functioning autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 35, 145–158.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Stella, J., Mundy, P., & Tuchman, R. (1999). Social and nonsocial factors in the childhood autism rating scale. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 29, 307–317.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Symons, F. A., Sperry, L. A., Dropik, P. L., & Bodfish, J. W. (2004). The early development of stereotypy and self-injury: A review of research methods. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 49(2), 144–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Szatmari, P., Georgiades, S., Bryson, S., Zwaigenbaum, L., Roberts, W., Mahoney, W., et al. (2006). Investigating the structure of the restricted, repetitive behaviors and interests domain of autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47, 582–590.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Tapp, J. (2002). Multiple option observation system for experimental studies (MOOSES) [Software]. Retrieved July 2004, from∼jont/mooses.html.Google Scholar
  39. Tapp, J. (2003). Tap-It [Software]. Retrieved July 2004, from Scholar
  40. Turner, M. A. (1997). Toward an executive dysfunction account of repetitive behavior in autism. In J. Russell (Ed.), Autism as an executive disorder. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Turner, M. A. (1999). Annotation: Repetitive behaviour [sic] in autism: A review of psychological research. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 40(6), 839–849.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Yoder, P. J., & Feurer, I. D. (2000). Quantifying the magnitude of sequential association between events or behaviors. In T. Thompson, D. Felce, & F. J. Symons (Eds.), Behavioral observation: Technology and applications in developmental disabilities (pp. 317–333). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brian A. Boyd
    • 1
    • 2
  • Maureen A. Conroy
    • 1
  • G. Richmond Mancil
    • 1
  • Taketo Nakao
    • 1
  • Peter J. Alter
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.University of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Allied Health SciencesUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  3. 3.Department of Teaching and LearningUniversity of LouisvilleLouisvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations