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Early Childhood Education
Early Childhood Education PSY125

Journal of Learning Disabilities http://ldx.sagepub.com/     Applied Behavior Analysis and Learning Disabilities: Part 1: Characteris tics of ABA, General Recommendations, and Methodological Limitations Thomas C. Lovitt J Learn Disabil 1975 8: 432 DOI: 10.1177/002221947500800708   The online version of this article can be found at: http://ldx.sagepub.com/content/8/7/432 Published by: Hammill Institute on Disabilities   and http://www.sagepublications.com       Additional services and information for Journal of Learning Disabilities can be found at:   Email Alerts: http://ldx.sagepub.com/cgi/alerts    Subscriptions: http://ldx.sagepub.com/subscriptions   Reprints: http://www.sagepub.com/journalsReprints.nav   Permissions: http://www.sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav   Citations: http://ldx.sagepub.com/content/8/7/432.refs.html >> Version of Record - Aug 1, 1975   What is This? Downnnnnnnm llllllllllm bbbbbbbSeeembbbbbbbbbbbbbeeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrr 22222222222222222222222222,,,,,,,,,,,,, 2222222222222000000000000011111111111113333333333333cccccccccccccooooooooooooom 432 Applied BehaviorAnalysis and LearningDisabilities Part I: Characteristics of ABA, General Recommendait ons, and Methodological Limitations TliomasC. Lovitt, EdD This report recommendsresearchon the cur- physically handicapped. However,it is not the riculum for learning disabledchildren usingthetentof this paper to discuss the relative Applied BehaviorAnalysis(ABA) methodology meritsof the various definitions. as tlie system for pursuing the suggested The apparent rationale for definingpupilsas studies.Thisis PartI ofa two-part report. Itlearning disabled is to aid in grouping the includes an explanationof tliresearch vari- children for subsequent instruction. The ablessuggestedand a brief descriptiooftlie thinking is that if a group of learningdisabled ABA researchmethodology. Included also isa children can be placed togethera common justification for recommending this particultreatment can be administered to them. Fol- investigative approach. Suggestionsare made lowingupon this logicis the belief that once a for researcon generalcurriculum topics such common learning disabilities treatment is asgeneralizationandretention. Partoncludes administered, the children wino longer be with a discussionfsomemethodological limi- disabled. The fallaof such logic is clearly tations of the ABA system, and some com- evident in the fact that a functional definition ments on how theselimitations might stimulatof learning disabilities leadingdirectly to a additional investigations. uniform treatment does not exist. As to the matter of defining children as The classification, learning disabilities, hlearning disabled and then searching for a elicited more definitions than perhaps any uniform treatment, I shall present the viewsof other category of exceptionality. Often thisapplied behavioranalysts in this context. Since term has been definedby exclusion- that is, their beliefs form to a great extent the philo- children with serious learning problems are sophical and methodologicalbasesfor Applied referred to as learningdisabled if arenot Behavior Analysis,they must be fully under- mentally retarded, emotionally disturbed, orstood for one to comprehend the research Volume 8, Numbe7,AugustlSepternb1975 33 433 suggestionspresented here. often been referred to as the basic skills: The researcher or teacher whose develop- reading, spelling,penmanship, and arithmetic. mental beliefsstem from ABAwould not con- Several dependent variables from these areas ceiveof learning disabilities asa specificentitywillbe identified and discussed. any more than he would view psychosis asa Many of the independent variables in this specific syndrome. Rather than attempting to report are commonly used as interventions in define psychosis or learning disabilities, he elementary classrooms (modeling, using in- would point out certain behaviors that are structional aids, feedback, and drill). Independ- abnormal. He might,for example, identify the ent variablessuch as the presentation or with- inappropriate speech patterns of the “psy- drawal of positive reinforcement are also chotic” client, and theb-d reversalproblem of considered. the “learning disabled” child.He would next determine the extent to which the behavior, CHARACTERISTICS OF APPLIED inappropriate speech, or b-d reversalsdeviated BEHAVIOR ANALYSIS . from some norm. Following this base line In the application of ABA to curriculum phase, the applied behavioranalyst wouldthen research, I characterize this system as com- change some aspect of the environment in an prising five ingredients:direct measurement, effort to alter the deviantbehavior.Rather than daily measurement,replicable teaching pro- suggestinga singletreatment for allclientswith cedures,individual analysis,and experimental inappropriate speech orb-d reversals,he would control. recornmenda treatment specificallyappropriate Direct measurement. WhenABA techniques for each individual. are used, the behavior of concern is measured Once the deviant behaviorshave been dealt directly. If the researcherisconcerned withthe with, the applied behavior analyst,in hiseffort pupil’s ability to add facts of the class to normalize the individual,would defineother 2+ 2= [ 1, or to read words from a Ginn behaviors that had perhaps prompted the label reader, those particular behaviorswou!d be psychotic or learning disabled,and proceed to measured. This form of measurement is con- deal with them. The applied behavioranalyst trasted to more indirect methods that usesuch would define and prescribe treatment for one devices as achievement tests that measure behavior at a time; he would not be so behaviorsnot of immediate concern. presumptuous as to deal with the totality of , Daily measurement. A second important “psychosis”or “learningdisabilites.” ingredient of ABA is that the behavior of In keepingwith sucha posture, Iwillpresent concern is measured, if not daily, at least very some of the characteristics of the children often. If, for instance, the pinpointed behavior enrolled in the Curriculum ResearchClassroom is the pupil’s ability to add facts of the class 1, he would begiventhe opportunity at the Universityof Washingtonwho servedas 2 + 2 = [ subjects for much of the research discussedin to perform that skill for severaldays during a this paper. Generally, the children. were of base line period before a judgment is made. normal intelligence; their social and physical Averagingdata for several days would balance competencies were average.They werenot able out the possibility that on one day the pupil performed very poorly, the next day better, to read and write as well asother children in their regular classes. Furthermore, their pen- and so forth. Many times in research the manship and spelling competencies, and their pretest-posttest methodology is used: A test abilities to compute arithmetic problemswere is given before treatment and another is given often below average. The children were not after treatment. Judgmentsor decisionsderived physicallyhandicapped arldwerenot diagnosed from such limiteddata might be pernicious;the as brain injured. consequences for some children could well be Variables to be. Considered. The research disastrous. that will be described and recommended in Repficable teaching procedures A.nother both parts of this report pertainsto what has important feature of ABA is that generallythe 34 Journal of Learning Disabilities 434 instructional interventions are adequately control and experimentalgroups, give apretest, described. In most instancesthey areexplained provide a treatment for the experimental group in enoughdetail for other interestedresearchers and no treatment or a placebofor the control to be ableto replicatetheir studies.In contrast,group, and then give a posttest fo!lowing the other types of iesearch sometimesexplain treatment. The pretest and posttest data of the general procedures only very casually. For two groups are then statistically analyzedand example,one Brand X researchstudy that used the winner announced.The significanceof the a phonics training program as an intervention conquestdependsupon which probability level simply said that “daily phonics.drills were wasachieved:.05, .01, .001. conducted.” It would be impossible for an In contrast, the applied behavior analyst interested teacher or researcher to replicate would use experimental control to establish such an investigation. In ABA research, if a relationships between the independent and phonics treatment was used, the readerwould dependent variables. More specifically, he be informed not only about which phonics would usesomeform of replication. elements were stressed andhow they were The OX0 designhasbeenthe favoredform presented,but also about the amount of time of replication. During the first 0 phase no usedfor instruction. treatment is arranged. Then a treatment is Individual analysis.The very heart of the scheduledthroughout the X condition. In the ABA technology is that the data from in- recapitulation phase (0) the treatment is re- dividuals are presented. For this reasonsome moved. If the behaviorchangedin the % phase have referred to this methodology as the from the first condition andchangedbackto its “single-subject” method. In an ABA study, if original level in the return to 0’ phase, a data are obtained on five subjects, a graph of convincing case can be madethat a functional each subject’s performancewould generallybe relationship had been discovered. There are shown. By this means, all of the ideosyncratic other replication techniques availableto the behavioral patterns become obvious. An in- ABA researcher,such asthe multiple baseline spection of these graphs would likely reveal and crossoverdesigns. Beyond the fact that I believe the ABA that although the general effects on all five subjects might be the same, no two graphsof system to be an excellent research meth- pupil performance look exactly alike.Other odology, in that it is responsive to such scientific characteristicss validity and re- research systems report the average data of groups - experimental and control. It might liability, there are additional reasonsfor ad- well be that these average scores do not vocating its use. One isits inclusiveness.Its techniquesareflexible enough so that many of representthe scoresof any individual. Experimental control. In every research the important independentanddependentvari- study, regardlessof the methodology, the re- ablesrelatingto the basic academicskills canbe searcher isobligated to prove that the effects investigated. on the dependent variableare attributed to the Another very practical advantage is that scheduled independent variable; we must when this system is used, one independent establisha functional relationship. The reason variableat a time isstudied,with the attendant for establishingsuch arelationship isextremely simplification of analyzing only one teaching important. For if researchersrecommend that procedure at a time. Several studies utilizing this system havedemonstratedthat many sim- method C be used by all reading teachers because it was discovered that it improved ple teaching proceduresare,aseffectivesother certain reading skills, the researchersmust be proceduresthat are more complexand expen- sive.Obviously, ifa number of simple teaching certain that variableC and nothing elsecaused the improvement. procedures can be recommended, thetraining BrandX researchersoften resort to statis- of teachersin the useof those procedureswill tical control in order to substantiate their be greatly facilitated.It would follow, then, claims. Their typical approach is to form that if more people can be trained to teach Volume8, Number 7,AugustiSeptember,1975 35 435 more skills, particularly the basic skills, therein highly diversesettings. would be fewer educationally handicappedin- The time has come, however, for applied dividualsasour product. behavior analyststo analyze systematicallythe A third advantage of ABA is that, to my many aspects ofcurriculum. For if meaningful knowledge, thi; is the only system that can be results are to be achieved,researcherswillneed used by both the clinician and the researcher. to concentrate their efforts on specific topics Let us note their procedures. Bothwould first and not shift from one to another before clearly define the behaviors of concern. Both conclusive statements and recommendations have been made. Morewillbe saidlaterabout a would then proceed to tally the frequency of those behaviorsfor a few days. They would proposed organization of researchers and next, possibly, change some aspect of the teachersthat should promote a more systematic environment in an effort to alter the behavior. approach to educational research. Both would graph the daily frequency of the Following are seven generalareas in which curriculumresearchisgreatly needed.There has behavior, and would interpret behavioral change from one day to the next in the same been more research in some than in others, but way. in every category considerable research is still The clinicianand the researcher would differ indicated. only in matters of experimental control and (1) Definingthe BehaviorsWhich hlakeup the SubjectAreus. The subjects of education reliability. As to control, the researcherwould utilize anOX0 or multiple base line designin must first be defined. Applied behavior aneffort to verifythat the independentvariable analysts, likeother curriculumresearchers, have had affected the measured behavior. As to focused their research on subjects such as reliability, the researcher would occasionally reading, writing,arithmetic, and spelling. Al- though these categories have beenaccepted by schedulea second observerto scrutinize certain of his procedures. In spite of these minor grade school teachers and curriculum re- differences, however, both can readily com- searchers for generations, it is possible that municate with one another when ABA tech- tcaching and research would be more effective niques areused. In the future, if more cliniciansifother subjectswere established. and researchers wereto use such a compatible Perhaps all educatioiial subjects should be system, the teacher-researcher gap would be based on survival- in the home, in institutions, materially reduced. in the city.If the prophecies of AlvinToffler (1970) are heeded, the curricular areas would RECOMMENDATIONS be determined by adaptability; or if Charles ABAcurriculum research pertainingto learning Reich's (1970) views are accepted, the raising disabled children has been meagerand of consciousness levels would be the primary desultory. Only recently have appliedbehavior subject. analysts used this system to investigate cur- Once 'the important subjects have been ricular problems,and the few studies that have identified, the skills, traits, or whatever com- been published have not followed any syste- prisesthose subjectsmustbe labeled. Identifica- matic line of inquiry. Many investigators have tion of those ingredieptswould obviouslybe a shifted from one research area to another greataid to research. without providing substantive and conclusive In the area of reading,for instance,although evidence along the way. An exception to this applied behavior analysts have conducted touch-and-go method isthe extent to which studies on variouselements (for example,Birn- researchers have analyzedthe effects of rein- brauer et al., 1964, Haring and Hauck 1969), forcement contingencies. Several applied be- they have not provideda listingof the elements havioranalysts have demonstrated to thepoint that constitute reading. Meanwhile,reading of redundancy that reinforcement con- experts and researchers from other meth- tingenciesdo influence the acquisitionof many odologieshave identified some of the elements behaviors,by severalvariedtypesof individuals, that make up reading. But their descriptionsof 36 JournalofLearningDisabilities 436 the various readingskillsare invariablyvague- individually relevant, that one sequence is often so indefinite that precise research is better for one child, but a different order is difficult. To illustrate, certain experts have better foranother. Indeed, a profitable pursuit talked about such skills as“reading readiness,” for some researchers would be to investigate “initial reading,” and “encoding.” Although strategies for ascertaining these individual ar- there has been considerable research in these rangements. general areas,by non-ABA scientists,the in- Research on sequencing is desperately vestigations have been widely scattered; few needed in all the curricular areas: reading, investigations havefocused on the sameprecise arithmetic, spelling and writing. The obvious skill. As a result, few substantial recom- importance of such research is that it would mendations can be made pertaining to the greatly serve today’s needfor developingnon- behaviorsof reading, in spiteofthe plethora of graded classroomsand other educational plans research.Applied behavior analysts,then, must where children are grouped by competencies clearly define each element of the subject of rather than by age or other irrelevant reading and the elements which make up the characteristics. other curricular areas. Once that is ac- (3) The Most Effective Techniquesfor complished, research about those subjects can Changing Certairi Skills.pplied behavior analysts have channeled most of their energies be managedwith relativeease. (2) Sequencing the Elements of the into this type of research. Infact, as Ihave Subjects, Once the ingredients of the major mentioned earlier, they have perhaps over- subjects are specified,analysts must next con- emphasized the fact that reinforcement con- duct research concerned with the arrangement tingenicescan alter variousacademicbehaviors. of those elements. In educational research, These researchers have clearly demonstrated debates have raged for some time about the that reinforcement contingencirs can influence order in which certain behaviors should be variousreading,writing,arithmetic, and spelling taught. In reading, some advocate that the skills (for example, Birnbrauer, et al. 1965, names of the letters should be learned before Wolfet al. 1968). the sounds.Others believethe soundsshould be Once the major elements that comprise the learned first. In arithmetic, some suggestthat important constructs are specified, researchers addition should be taught before subtraction can systematically concentrate on each and that both skillsshould be developed prior element. If, for example, the ability to saor write certain blends isan establishedelement in to the teaching of divisionand multiplication. Other arithmetic experts say that adding and reading,researchersshould examine the effects subtracting should be taught simultaneously. of several current and new techniques on the Argumentshave also focusedon the sequencing acquisition of that skill with many pupils.This of various penmanship, composition and type of exploration into all the skills of the spellingskills. varioussubjectsshould be encouraged. A great dealof researchshould beconducted Whenit hasbeen determined whichteaching to determinewhether there are, in fact, optimal techniques influenced which skills, researchers sequences for the development of skills. Al- should systematically compare the relative ef- though the logic of sequencingisconvincing - fects of the variables.Occasionally, researchers that one skill should be developed which in set up research of this type before it has been turn leads to another, then to another - it is clearly established that the techniquesinvolved possible that researcherswill learn that many were initiallyeffective. Little would be gained heretofore acclaimed “sequencesof learning” by studying the relative effects of ineffective are mere superstitions. Itmjght be discovered techniques. through this type of researchthat in someareas The contributions from this type of research the various skills can be developed in almost would be far-reaching. If teachers knew which any order. techniques were most suited for the develop- Researchersmightalso learnthat sequenceis ment of certain skills, the probability of Volume8, Number 7AugustlSeptember, 1975 37 437 quickerremediation wouldbegreatly increased. most representative rate or score from the (4) Deterniining Performance Mastery. In reference group. If the goal is to change the referred child’s behavior so that itis likethe the first place, researchers must be more conr cerned with mastery than they havebeen inthe median child’s in the referent group, then the past. Oftentimes researchers, including applied median score is the goal. Followingthat deter- behavior analysts,have been concerned simply mination, an interventionshould be arrangedin with behavioral change,without considering an effort to changethe client’slevelof perform- whether the changewas effective.For example, ance to the point displayed by the referent in reading research, an experimenter might group. discover that a pupil’s reading rate was’25 Research pertaining to mastery levelshould words per minute during a base line phase. also be conducted because of the possible Then, during a teaching phase, his rate may effects of mastcry level on retention and have soared to 32 words per minute. Con- generalization. Later inthisreport, more will be ceivably,if the mean scores or variancesof the said about these aspects of development, but two conditions werecompared, the investigator within this context, it appearsreasonableto say would be able to proclaim statisticalor experi- that both retention and generalization maybe mental significance. Ateacher, however,might influenced by the level at which various tasks be unimpressedby such anexperiment, for she are mastered. In determining mastery levels might know that in order to be proficient, a required to promote maximum retention and pupilmust achievea rate in excessof 100words generalization, the researcher will be required per minute. She mightchallengethe importance to approach the matter with more sophistica- of the observed change.Some applied behavior tion than wassuggestedearlier,wherehis intent analysts are beginningto take “real” effects was merely to change certain behaviors to into account when ,conducting and reporting conform to those of a referent group: their studies (for example, Smith and Lovitt Research of this type would be of great 1974)’ but many more need to be guided by importance to clinicians. Not only should the this important consideration. teacher know what should be taught and how; Some of the research needed in regard to he must know the degree of proficiency to performance mastery might involve simply a which the behaviorshould be developedso that careful explanation of the status quo. If, for the pupil will maintain that skilland generalize example, readingor arithmetic researchisbeing to other skills. conducted with children describedas having (5) Retention Research.A survey of cur- reading or arithmetic deficits, and the‘purpose riculum studies conducted by applied behavior is to send them back to a particular setting so analystsrevealedtheir disinclinationto consider that they willno longer bereferredto ashaving retention (McClurg 1973): very few studies those deficits, the procedure could be quite included afollow-upto determine the extent to simple. First, the experimentershould pinpoint which the learned behaviorisretained.To date, the exact behaviorsthat deviate. The next step most of the investigatorshave been content to would be to obtain data in regardto theseskills demonstrate merely that certain academic be- from a referent population. That population haviors can be changed. Whether the pupil mightbe a third grade,a classfor neurologically retained the abilitto perform the behaviorat a impaired, or whatever. If the referred pupil is later date has beenof little interest. expected to survive ultimately in one of these An initial suggestion for applied behavior settings, then that situation isfor him the norm analysts is that they incorportate routinely to be met. The obvious next step would be to some provision for obtaining retention data in ,determine how discrepant the referred pupil their studies. Beyondthat, investigationsshould was from the normal pupils in
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