Behavior Analysis in Practice

, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 133–142 | Cite as

Task Interspersal Implementation Practices with Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Summer BottiniEmail author
  • Jennifer Vetter
  • Jennifer Gillis
Research Article


Task interspersal is a teaching method frequently used with individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Although many different procedural variations of task interspersal have been reported in the literature, it is unclear how providers serving individuals with ASD implement task interspersal. The present study surveyed direct care providers to examine which variations of task interspersal they use most frequently, as well as how they choose a particular variation. Results revealed that many different procedural variations are used across providers. Provider discipline background appeared to be associated with differences in selection of specific procedural variations. Findings inform areas for further research as well as consideration of topics for discussion during training and/or supervision with employees and trainees. (1) Providers report frequently interspersing tasks of similar difficulty, despite research supporting the practice of interspersing tasks of varying difficulty. Service providers might consider primarily implementing maintenance among acquisition tasks when using task interspersal. (2) Due to potential problems associated with using the same reinforcement schedules/reinforcers for both tasks (e.g., satiation), providers and supervising BCBAs are encouraged to consider whether using different reinforcement schedules/reinforcers will enhance acquisition outcomes. (3) When selecting a procedural variation, providers reported relying on clinical judgment or guidelines from their organizations more frequently than directly contacting the current literature. It is important that organizations and supervisors provide clear guidelines and recommendations based on the most recent scientific literature and update these as new research is published. (4) Individualization of procedures based on specific client characteristics was found to be inconsistent. Supervisors are encouraged to discuss individualization practices for cases in which consistency of treatment across providers is preferred or necessary for maintenance of skills.


Task interspersal Provider decisions Instructional programming Procedural variations Autism 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


  1. Adcock, J., & Cuvo, A. J. (2009). Enhancing learning for children with autism spectrum disorders in regular education by instructional modifications. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 3, 319–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barbera, M., & Rasmussen, T. (2007). The verbal behavior approach: how to teacher children with autism and related disorders. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.Google Scholar
  3. Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) (2014). Professional and ethical compliance code for behavior analysts. Behavior Analyst Certification Board, Inc.Google Scholar
  4. Benavides, C. A., & Poulson, C. L. (2009). Task interspersal and performance of matching tasks by preschoolers with autism. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 3, 619–629.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brandon, P. K., & Houlihan, D. (1997). Applying behavioral theory to practice: an examination of the behavioral momentum metaphor. Behavioral Interventions, 12, 113–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Charlop, M. H., Kurtz, P. F., & Milstein, J. P. (1992). Too much reinforcement, too little behavior: assessing task interspersal procedures in conjunction with different reinforcement schedules with autistic children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25, 795–808.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chong, I. M., & Carr, J. E. (2005). An investigation of the potentially adverse effects of task interspersal. Behavioral Interventions, 20, 285–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Congdon, M. (2013). Increasing food acceptance in the school setting for children with autism spectrum disorder using high probability requests sequences (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest. (3599690).Google Scholar
  9. Cooke, N. L., & Reichard, S. M. (1996). The effects of different interspersal drill ratios on acquisition and generalization of multiplication and division facts. Education & Treatment of Children, 16, 213–234.Google Scholar
  10. Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2006). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.). Columbus: Pearson Education, Inc..Google Scholar
  11. DiGennaro Reed, F. D., & Henley, A. J. (2015). A survey of staff training and performance management practices: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 8(1), 16–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dunlap, G., & Koegel, R. L. (1980). Motivating autistic children through stimulus variation. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 13(4), 619–627.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Durand, M. A. (2014). Autism Spectrum disorder: a clinical guide for general practitioners. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Esch, K., & Fryling, M. J. (2013). A comparison of two variations of the high-probability instructional sequence with a child with autism. Education & Treatment of Children, 36(1), 61–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Henrickson, M. L., Rapp, J. T., & Ashbeck, H. A. (2015). Teaching with massed versus interspersed trials: effects on acquisition, maintenance, and problem behavior. Behavioral Interventions, 30, 36–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Houlihan, D., Jacobson, L., & Brandon, P. K. (1994). Replication of a high-probability request sequence with varied interprompt times in a preschool setting. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 27(4), 737–738.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Humm, S. P., Blampied, N. M., & Liberty, K. A. (2015). Effects of parent-administered, home-based, high-probability request sequences on compliance by children with developmental disabilities. Child and Family Behavior Therapy, 27(3), 27–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kelly, L., & Holloway, J. (2015). An investigation of the effectiveness of behavioral momentum on the acquisition and fluency outcomes of tacts in three children with autism spectrum disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 9, 182–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lancioni, G. E., O’Reilly, M. F., Campoodnico, F., & Mantini, M. (1998). Task variation versus task repetition for people with profound developmental disabilities: an assessment of preferences. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 19(2), 189–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. LeBlanc, L. A., Gravina, N., & Carr, J. E. (2009). Training issues unique to autism spectrum disorders. In J. Matson (Ed.), Practitioner’s guide to applied behavior analysis for children with autism spectrum disorders (pp. 225–235). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Love, J. R., Carr, J. E., Almason, S. M., & Petursdottir, A. I. (2009). Early and intensive behavioral intervention for autism: a survey of clinical practice. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 3, 421–428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Mace, F. C., Mauro, B. C., Boyajian, A. E., & Eckert, T. L. (1997). Effects of reinforcer quality on behavioral momentum: coordinated applied and basic research. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 30, 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Majdalany, L., Wilder, D., Greif, A., Mathisen, D., & Saini, V. (2014). Comparing massed-trial instruction, distributed-trial instruction, and task interspersal to teach tacts to children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 47(3), 657–662.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Miller, D. J., Spengler, E. S., & Spengler, P. M. (2015). A meta-analysis of confidence and judgment accuracy in clinical decision making. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 62(4), 553–567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Nicholson, C. A. (2013). An analysis of variables affecting task interspersal among children with autism (doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Dissertation Abstracts International (3577739).Google Scholar
  26. Pitts, L., & Dymond, S. (2012). Increasing compliance of children with autism: effects of programmed reinforcement of high-probability requests and varied inter-instruction intervals. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 6, 135–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Rapp, J. T., & Gunby, K. (2016). Task interspersal for individuals with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 49(3), 730–734.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Ray, K. P., Skinner, C. H., & Watson, T. S. (1999). Transferring stimulus control via momentum to increase compliance in a student with autism: a demonstration of collaborative consultation. School Psychology Review, 28(4), 622.Google Scholar
  29. Reid, D. H., & Green, C. W. (2005). Preference-based teaching: helping people with developmental disabilities enjoy learning without problem behavior. Morganton: Habilitative Management Consultant, Inc..Google Scholar
  30. Riviere, V., Becquet, M., Peltret, E., Facon, B., & Darcheville, J. (2011). Increasing compliance with medical examination requests directed to children with autism: effects of a high-probability request procedure. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 44(1), 193–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Romano, J., & Roll, D. (2000). Expanding the utility of behavioral momentum for youth with developmental disabilities. Behavioral Interventions, 15(2), 99–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Rowan, V. C., & Pear, J. J. (1985). A comparison of the effects of interspersal and concurrent training sequences on acquisition, retention, and generalization of picture names. Applied Research in Mental Retardation, 6, 127–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Sundberg, M. L. (2008). Verbal behavior milestones assessment and placement program: the VB-MAPP. Concord: AVB Press.Google Scholar
  34. Ventola, P., Yang, D., Friedman, H. E., Oosting, D., Wolf, J., Sukhodolsky, D. G., & Pelphrey, K. A. (2015). Heterogeneity of neural mechanisms of response to pivotal response treatment. Brain Imaging and Behavior, 9(1), 74–88. Scholar
  35. Volkert, V. M., Lerman, D. C., Trosclair, N., Addison, L., & Kodak, T. (2008). An exploratory analysis of task-interspersal procedures while teaching objects labels to children with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 41(3), 335–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Association for Behavior Analysis International 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Summer Bottini
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Jennifer Vetter
    • 1
  • Jennifer Gillis
    • 1
  1. 1.Binghamton UniversityBinghamtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyVestalUSA

Personalised recommendations