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Using requests for assistance to obtain desired items and to gain release from nonpreferred activities: implications for assessment and intervention.


A multiple probe design across activities was implemented with a 32-year-old individual with severe developmental disabilities in teaching him to request assistance to gain release from nonpreferred difficult activities. Results suggested a successful intervention that resulted in generalization to other tasks associated with escape (negative reinforcement), However. no generalization occured in tasks that the learner engaged in challenging behavior to obtain preferred but difficult-to-access items. Implications for the selection of teaching examples and for functional assessment of socially-motivated challenging behavior are discussed. Results are also discussed in the context of analyzing generalization of a new response when competing behaviors are already part of a well established communicative repertoire.

Descriptors: Requests - Intervention - AAC


Within recent years, intervention designed to establish a functionally equivalent communicative response as an alternative to socially-motivated challenging behavior has been the focus of a number of research investigations (Budd & Homer, 1985; Carr, 1977; Carr &; Durand, 1985; Derby, Wacker, Berg, DeRaad, Ufrich, Asmus, Harding, Prouty, Laffey, & Stoner, 1997; Drasgow, Halle, & Ostrosky, 1998; Fisher, Kuhn, & Thompson, 1998; Freah & Hughes, 1997, Hagopian, Fisher, Sullivan, Acquisto, & LeBlanc, 1998; Kahng, Iwata, DeLeon, & Worsdell, 1997; O'Neill & Reichie, 1993; Schepis et al., 1998; Shirley, Iwata, Kahng, Mazaleski, & Lerman, 1997; Wacker, Steege, Northrup, Sasso, Berg, Reimers, Cooper, Cigrand, & Dorm, 1990; and numerous others). The basis for establishing functional communicative alternatives to challenging behavior rests in the principle of functional equivalence. Within recent years, a growing literature has demonstrated that establishing functionally equivalent communicative responses serves to repla ce challenging behavior (e.g., Durand, 1990; Carr, Levin, McConnachie, Carison, Kemp, & Smith, 1994; Reichle & Wacker, 1993) and that communicative behavior that is not functionally equivalent does not replace challenging behavior (e.g., Carr, 1977, Carr & Durand, 1985). Other literature has demonstrated that the functionally equivalent communicative form must be equally or more efficient than challenging behavior if the communicative replacement is to be maintained (Homer & Day, 1991). Taken together, these concepts suggest that a socially acceptable communicative act that more efficiently obtains the function associated with challenging behavior should be used with increasing frequency while the functionally equivalent but less efficient socially unacceptable behavior should occur with decreasing frequency. Another important variable influencing the establishment of a socially acceptable communicative alternative to challenging behavior focuses on the range of maintenance and generalization that must occur to achieve a meaningful reduction in challenging behavior.

Many now conceptualize generalization as a phenomenon that must be addressed during acquisition (O'Neill & Reichie, 1993). That is, generalization can be viewed as an outcome of sufficiently defining the stimuli that one wishes to exert influence over learner responding from the outset of intervention rather than a phenomenon that occurs after acquisition. General case instruction has been operationalized as a planning mechanism for instructors to ensure that they have sampled an adequate range of stimulus and response characteristics to ensure generalized performance (DePaepe, Reichie, & O'Neill, 1993; Homer & Albin, 1988; O'Neill & Reichie, 1993; and numerous others).

Defining the range of stimuli to be utilized in communication intervention can be particularly challenging when one also considers the number of communicative alternatives that are available to interventionists. Several taxonomies of communicative functions have been proposed as alternatives that are functionally equivalent to the challenging behavior. Most of these taxonomies are remarkably similar and have gained widespread acceptance. Although these descriptive systems mesh nicely within a framework of positive and negative reinforcement, many communicative functions do not rest exclusively within the domain of positive or negative reinforcement. For example, requests for assistance (request for action in some taxonomies) can be viewed in terms of both positive and negative reinforcement. A child who wants to unwrap a sealed candy engages in a request for assistance to obtain a positive reinforcer (candy). On the other hand, the same child might produce a request for assistance to more quickly escape his h omework (negative reinforcer). When designing teaching examples that adequately sample the range of situations in which a new communicative response should be used, selecting instances that involve both positive and negative reinforcement may be particularly critical for some communication functions. To date, no investigations have explored the importance of selecting positive teaching examples that cross the boundaries of reinforcement paradigms. Consequently, the purpose of the current investigation was to examine the extent to which a request for assistance generalized within and across general classes of positive and negative reinforcement.


Participant and Setting

Sam, a 32-year-old who experienced severe developmental disabilities, participated in this study. Three months prior to the beginning of this study, Sam lived in a six-person group home serving individuals with severe developmental disabilities. During this investigation, he was served by two primary staff and on the weekends by two different staff. Staff all had high school educations and had worked as residential assistants for a mean of 2.5 years (range of .75 to 4.2 years). Sam was assessed by a licensed consulting psychologist who reported an IQ of 40, obtained via administration of the WISC. III (Wechsler, 1974). Implementation of a Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) (Dunn & Dunn, 1981) revealed a language comprehension age of 4 years, 6 months. Implementation of the Miller-Yoder Test of Grammatical Comprehension (Miller & Yoder, 1972) revealed morphological/symbolic skills commensurate with those of a child approximately four years of age.

Group home staff reported that Sam occasionally vocalized loudly to obtain attention. He did not produce any intelligible words. Sam's gestural communicative repertoire was limited to leading people to obtain desired items. If his communicative overtures did not receive an immediate response, Sam usually engaged in challenging behavior (however, staff were quite good in anticipating Sam's reinforcers and he rarely engaged in challenging behavior to obtain desired items). During the past ten years, Sam had been taught to use 20 Mayer-Johnson black-and-white line drawings located in a communication wallet. He used his wallet to request items represented by these symbols without error. All of Sam's symbols represented highly preferred items/events, Staff corroborated that he used his wallet only when the display was open and clearly visible.

When asked to engage in difficult tasks at work or at home, Sam predictably engaged in screaming and flailing that occasionally escalated into hitting others nearby. Staff who worked with Sam described him as becoming easily frustrated "if he doesn't get his way." Consequently, he sparingly received requests to engage in "work" or household chores. In addition to Sam's hypothesized escape-motivated challenging behavior, the first author observed that sometimes Sam produced challenging behavior after he had obtained a desired item. Occasionally, Sam could not operate (e.g., put cassette in player) or unwrap (e.g., wrapped candy) desired items that he obtained. If staff were not sufficiently observant to provide assistance, Sam typically engaged in the same challenging behaviors that appeared to be associated with escape.

Design and Procedural Overview

An outline of procedures implemented are outlined in Figure 1. First, a reinforcer preference assessment was implemented to determine whether the reinforcement value of an item or activity was associated with challenging behavior. After preferences were evaluated, a series of functional analyses relying on a reversal design were implemented. One functional analysis verified that challenging behavior was associated with highly preferred but difficult-to-access items/activities. A second functional analysis verified that challenging behavior was associated with difficult tasks that were physically challenging but not associated with physically less challenging tasks. A third functional analysis verified that providing unsolicited assistance in obtaining highly preferred items associated with challenging behavior resulted in a decrease in challenging behavior. A fourth functional analysis documented the same decrease in challenging behavior when assistance was provided on a nonpreferred physically (difficult) ch allenging activity.

Once providing assistance was demonstrated to be associated with a deceleration in challenging behavior, the investigators implemented a multiple probe design during the implementation of an intervention strategy to teach requesting assistance. The multiple probe design consisted of three "legs." Initially, interventionists implemented a set of nonpreferred activities. Concurrently, a second set of comparable nonpreferred activities remained in baseline and a third set of preferred activities associated with challenging behavior remained in baseline conditions. We hypothesized that experimental control would be maintained with the set of preferred activities but would be lost with the second set of nonpreferred activities. This outcome would confirm a hypothesis that generalization occurred within a limited reinforcement boundary.

Experiment 1: Verifying the Function of Sam's Challenging Behavior

Verifying activity preference. An initial comparison identified preferred and nonpreferred activities. Using procedures described by Windsor, Piche, and Locke (1994), all possible pairwise comparisons of typical activities in Sam's daily routine were presented. For each activity, materials were offered in a two-choice array. After offering the choice, Sam reached for the item or began using the materials to complete a task. After choosing an item, he engaged in the activity until it was completed (or he had completed 80% of task-analyzed steps) or consumed the item. At the end of two minutes, he was told that it was "time to move on." A list of most frequently selected and least frequently selected items is displayed in Table 1.

Functional analyses of Sam's challenging behavior. During several informal observations in Sam's home prior to the current investigation, his challenging behavior appeared to be associated with specific steps of a number of tasks. For example, he often had no difficulty putting on his shirt but frequently engaged in challenging behavior as he attempted to button it. When unloading the dishwasher, he willingly removed plates and glasses but often produced challenging behavior while unloading the silverware. When attempting to obtain some desired items, Sam engaged in challenging behavior when he was not immediately successful in obtaining them. These observations led to the hypotheses that a significant portion of Sam's challenging behavior might be associated with his attempt to escape difficult tasks and to obtain "difficult to access" desired items. To test these hypotheses, a series of functional analyses were implemented. During a 4-week period, conditions surrounding Sam's engagement in both "preferred" and "nonpreferred" activities were manipulated systematically.

Comparing easy/difficult non preferred activities. The nonpreferred activities identified in the preference assessment were divided into two groups. The first group consisted of activities that, by staff report, often resulted in episodes of challenging behavior. These tasks also had been observed by investigators to be completed successfully during 50% or less of available opportunities. This group was described as difficult nonpreferred tasks. The second was a group of nonpreferred tasks in which Sam typically required repeated prompting to finish but were not associated with challenging behavior. These tasks had been observed by investigators to be completed with greater than 80% accuracy and were termed easy nonpreferred tasks. Typically, each task was offered to Sam at the time when he was asked to engage in the context of a regular daily routine.

The functional analysis was implemented with both groups of nonpreferred activities. The interventionist approached Sam with the materials associated with the task and said, "Sam, time to _____." He was given 15s to initiate engagement. If he did not, the instruction was repeated at 15s intervals until he either complied or engaged in problem behavior. If problem behavior occurred, Sam was released from the activity. Alternatively, if Sam completed the activity, he also was released. Over the course of approximately four weeks, staff recorded each instance of challenging behavior and successful task completion.

Comparing easy/difficult preferred activities. The second functional analysis examined whether difficult-to-access preferred activities were associated with challenging behavior while easy-to-access preferred items were not. The preferred activities identified the preference assessment were divided in two groups. The first group consisted of activities that, by staff report, often resulted in episodes of challenging behavior. These tasks also had been observed by investigator to be highly preferred. Some tasks were unable to be accessed and quickly discarded while others typically were operated, eaten, or used. This group was termed difficult-preferred tasks. The second group Sam typically accessed and readily consumed or operated.

The functional analysis was implemented with both groups of preferred activities. The interventionist approached Sam with the materials and said, "Sam, want to _____?" or "Sam' want _____?" Sam was given 15s to initiate engagement. If he did not, the trial was terminated. He was allowed to use, consume, or interact with the materials for up to 2 minutes. At the end of 2 minutes, he was told that it was "time to move on." Contingent on the emission of challenging behavior, Sam was given assistance to put the material in a position to be accessed directly (e.g., unwrapped, activated). Over the course of approximately four weeks, staff recorded each instance of challenging behavior and successful completion.

Comparing unsolicited assistance and no assistance during non preferred-difficult activities and during difficult-to-access preferred activities.

During each of the previously described functional analyses, data were recorded on the point at which challenging behavior occurred in the task analysis created for using preferred objects or completing less preferred activities. These data were used to determine the point at which to implement assistance.

On some occasions, Sam was provided with unsolicited assistance when he reached a component of an activity that was frequently associated with challenging behavior. On other occasions, opportunities with the same activities in which no unsolicited assistance were provided. This comparison was conducted during separate manipulations for both preferred but difficult- to-access and nonpreferred-difficult activities. This manipulation was important in determining whether teaching Sam to request assistance represented a viable intervention strategy to replace his challenging behavior with a functionally equivalent communicative alternative.


Results are described separately for each experimental manipulation performed in the functional analysis.

Comparing Easy/Difficult Non preferred Activities

Results displayed in Figure 2 (upper cell) indicate that challenging behavior ocourred during a mean of 7.5% of the easy tasks and during a mean of 82.5% of the tasks hypothesized to be difficult. Performance in successfully completing tasks further validated the "easy" and "difficult" descriptors. "Easy" tasks were completed during a mean of 72.5% of available opportunities. "Difficult" tasks were successfully completed during a mean of 21% of available opportunities.

Comparing Easy/Difficult Preferred Activities

Results are displayed in Figure 2 (lower cell). Although the proportion of object/event selections was comparable across the two groups. Sam was substantially more likely to engage in challenging behavior with activities that were difficult to access. He selected activities that were identified as difficult-to-access during a mean of 58% of opportunities. He never independently consumed or used any of these items. With items selected, he engaged in challenging behavior during a mean of 79% of the instances as he tried to consume the item or participate in a selected activity. Sam selected activities hypothesized to be easy to access during a mean of 42% of the opportunities; he independently accessed these in a mean of 90% of instances. Challenging behavior occurred in only 5% of these instances.

Comparing Unsolicited Assistance and No Assistance

Nonpreferred difficult. Results displayed in Figure 3 (top cell) suggest that challenging behavior was influenced by the availability of assistance during difficult tasks. Sam produced challenging behavior while assistance was given during a mean of 20% of opportunities. The mean percentage in which Sam produced challenging behavior given no assistance was 88.6%.

Preferred difficult-to-access. Results of this experimental manipulation suggest that emissions of challenging behavior were influenced by the availability of assistance (see Figure 3, bottom cell). The mean percentage in which Sam produced challenging behavior while attempting to procure difficult-to-access items/actions with assistance was 17.5%. The mean percentage of opportunities in which Sam produced challenging behavior while attempting to obtain preferred items when given no assistance was 84.4%.


Sam was more likely to engage in challenging behavior during difficult tasks that involved both preferred items and nonpreferred activities. When unsolicited assistance was provided, Sam's challenging behaviors diminished dramatically in both preferred and nonpreferred difficult activities. Based on this outcome, the experimenters implemented a communicative replacement procedure, specifically to teach Sam to request assistance. The purpose of Experiment 2 was to determine whether teaching a request for assistance in the context of situations involving specific difficult nonpreferred tasks would generalize to situations involving other difficult nonpreferred items as well as difficult-to-access preferred tasks.

Experiment 2: Teaching Requests for Assistance

Intervention: Design and Procedural Overview

A multiple probe design across tasks was implemented to experimentally examine the efficacy of an intervention strategy for teaching requests for assistance. A graphic symbol "help" was chosen for Sam for the following reasons. First, Sam's guardian preferred graphic symbols over gestures because, as a system, graphic symbols place less communicative burden on a listener than gestural symbols. Secondly, Sam had shown a propensity to acquire discriminations among graphic symbols but had not done so with gestural symbols.

Nonpreferred activities that were associated with challenging behavior were divided randomly into two groups. A third group of preferred but difficult-to-access activities associated with challenging behavior were also included in the intervention (see Table 2 for a list of these activities and groups). After obtaining a baseline of challenging behavior, socially acceptable requests for assistance, and task engagement on all three groups of activities, intervention procedures were implemented to teach a requesting assistance response with the first set of nonpreferred difficult tasks. The remaining set of nonpreferred difficult tasks and the set of preferred but difficult-to-access items remained on baseline. Once acquisition with the first set of activities occurred, generalization in the remaining two sets of activities was examined. If generalization had not occurred, instruction in these tasks was provided. All tasks implemented in the current investigation were sequenced into Sam's daily schedule.

Opportunities to record challenging behavior, which included any or a combination of screaming, arm flailing, and hitting others, or a request for assistance occurred once a direction had been given to Sam. If he completed each step in the task analysis without the task having to be terminated, a task completion was recorded.

Baseline Procedures

Nonpreferred activities. At the onset of an activity, an interventionist directed Sam's attention toward a picture schedule located on his closet door. Photographs of him engaging in the activity were used as picture prompts to signal Sam that it was time for him to complete the pictured activity. If Sam did not move to the pictured activity within 10 seconds, a verbal prompt was delivered. If he still did not move toward the activity within 10 seconds, increasingly intrusive response prompts were implemented until he arrived at the task or until he engaged in challenging behavior. Challenging behavior resulted in the removal of the task. The task was terminated if a period of 30 minutes elapsed and Sam had not completed the last step of the activity and had not engaged in challenging behavior. Typically, Sam was allowed to escape within 90 seconds of challenging behavior onset. If Sam attempted to leave the area, he was not restrained but he was not allowed to access preferred activities and the verbal dire ctions continued through the 30-minute task interval. Upon successful completion of an activity, Sam was allowed to choose among previously validated reinforcers (e.g., watch TV play Pac-Man, have a snack). A black-and-white line-drawn symbol depicting "help" from the Mayer-Johnson collection of line- drawn symbols was available on a surface near each task. If Sam touched the symbol, he was provided with assistance and then released to previously validated reinforcers.

Preferred activities. Preferred activities were made available during free periods in Sam's day. Beverages were located in a kitchen refrigerator, and games/puzzles were kept in a storage cabinet in the living room. Approximately half of the opportunities occurred when Sam originated a request for an item or activity. The remaining opportunities occurred when a staff member directly offered an item/activity. Once Sam had gained possession of the activity, the interventionist observed whether he independently accessed the activity or, if he was unable to access the activity, whether he engaged in either challenging behavior or a socially acceptable request for assistance.

As during baseline activities described earlier, a black-and-white line-drawn symbol (help) was placed near each preferred activity that Sam had an opportunity to access. If Sam touched the request assistance symbol, he was provided assistance. If he engaged in challenging behavior, the item/ activity that was the focus of Sam's attention was made more accessible (e.g., unwrapping candy). Typically, Sam's challenging emissions were reinforced within 30 seconds of onset.

Intervention Procedures

Non preferred activities. Baseline data suggested that for most tasks, there were predictable steps of the task analysis that were associated with the greatest probability of challenging behavior. Just prior to the identified task steps or time interval where problem behavior was more likely, staff implemented a package of instructional procedures that were designed to teach Sam to request assistance as an alternative to challenging behavior.

The goal was for staff to intervene before a challenging behavior occurred. When Sam reached a difficult step of a task that had been identified as a provoking stimulus, staff were taught to provide unsolicited assistance. For nonpreferred activities, this procedure resulted in quicker escape from a difficult task if no challenging behavior was produced during the provision of assistance.

Once interventionists successfully implemented noncontingent assistance during two consecutive opportunities in the absence of challenging behavior, the communication symhol "help" was introduced. They began introducing the task, followed by a three-second time delay prior to implementing a response prompt. If Sam did not touch his symbol, a quick physical response prompt was delivered directing Sam's hand to graphic symbol "help," held by the instructor prior to the delivery of assistance. Contingent on touching the symbol, assistance was provided on the "difficult step" of the task. Across successive instructional opportunities, the magnitude of the response prompts was diminished systematically by releasing Sam's hand increasingly earlier. After the 80th intervention opportunity, a constant 5-second time delay was implemented. If challenging behavior was produced prior to the delivery of a prompt to produce a request for assistance, Sam was kept in the area. After challenging behavior subsided, the prompt for the assistance request and subsequent assistance was provided. Additionally, access to any preferred activities was prohibited for approximately 15 minutes after the task time ended. A second set of nonpreferred items associated with challenging behavior remained on baseline for a period of time before the intervention procedures were implemented.

Preferred items/activities. Intervention procedures to teach a requesting assistance symbol associated with attempts to obtain desired items were implemented just as they were for situations involving nonpreferred items/activities. Once interventionists implemented assistance without a request for assistance and challenging behavior was absent during two consecutive opportunities, they began delivering a quick physical response prompt directing Sam's hand to the graphic symbol "help" prior to the delivery of assistance. Contingent on touching the symbol, assistance was provided so that Sam could access the desired item or activity. Across successive teaching opportunities, the delivery of the response prompt was delayed and the magnitude of physical prompt when delivered was diminished. If Sam engaged in challenging behavior before the instructional prompt could be delivered, the opportunity to obtain the desired item/activity was removed and not re-offered for a minimum of 15 minutes.

Interobserver Reliability

Interobserver reliability was obtained on both Sam's responses and the interventionist's implementation of assessment and intervention procedures. Individual agreement defined as instances of agreement divided by the sum of agreements and disagreements multiplied by 100 was utilized in computing all interobserver reliability, Response reliability was 100% during each environmental manipulation performed. Across all intervention procedures, response reliability was 96%. Procedural reliability was 100% during each phase of the functional analyses. During intervention procedures, procedural reliability was 94%.


Requesting Assistance with Non preferred Activities

Results are displayed in Figure 4. During Difficult Tasks-Group A baseline, Sam engaged in challenging behavior during a mean of 85% of the opportunities implemented. No challenging behavior was emitted with Group A-Difficult Tasks after intervention was implemented. Sam's productions of independently produced socially acceptable requests for assistance and completed tasks steadily increased. During the last three blocks of 10 opportunities, Sam's requests for assistance occurred during 100% of the opportunities.

Concurrently, baseline continued during Difficult Tasks-Group B and for preferred but difficult-to-access tasks. During the first five blocks of opportunities in baseline in Group B, Sam produced challenging behavior during a mean of 82% of the opportunities. However, during the remaining six blocks of baseline opportunities, Sam engaged in challenging behavior during a mean of 32% of the opportunities. During these same six blocks of opportunities, he produced requests during a mean of 55% of the opportunities compared to 0% during the first five blocks of baseline opportunities. Within this same time frame, completed tasks rose from 0% to a mean of 30%. Since Sam was not taught to request assistance with this second group of difficult tasks, it appears that he may have shown a moderate level of generalization with collateral effects on task completion and challenging behavior. After implementation of the intervention for the second group of difficult and nonpreferred activities, Sam immediately began emitti ng the request for assistance during 90 to 100% of the opportunities. At the same time, his challenging behavior rates further decreased and tasks completed continued to increase (mean of 85%).

Preferred Items that are Difficult to Access

Results of baseline and intervention procedures for preferred/difficult-to-access tasks are shown in Figure 4. The baseline percentages for both challenging behavior and socially acceptable requests for assistance remained steady for preferred tangibles throughout the last leg of the multiple baseline (preferred but difficult-to-access items/actions). Sam engaged in challenging behavior during a mean of 63.3% of the opportunities. He never produced a request for assistance during baseline. Correspondingly, Sam continued to utilize his challenging behavior to obtain assistance. Shortly after the intervention was implemented, Sam began to produce the request for assistance 80% of the opportunities and increased to 100%. At the same time, he decreased engagement in challenging behavior to a mean percentage of 10% during the intervention phase. Sam was able to engage in or consume the preferred but difficult-to-access items/actions a mean percentage of 81% of opportunities during the baseline phase of the third c ondition of the multiple baseline. When the intervention was implemented in this condition, he increased his mean percentage of procurement of these items/actions to 90%.


Results of the current investigation suggest that Sam's challenging behavior was both escape-motivated and tangible-motivated (obtaining desired object). Requesting assistance served as a functionally equivalent and efficient alternative to both escape-and tangible-motivated challenging behavior. However, the generalizability of his new requesting assistance response appeared to be influenced by the function of his challenging behavior. Sam appeared to quickly generalize his new requesting assistance response to situations involving nonpreferred and difficult activities (same as training) but did not readily produce his new requesting assistance symbol in situations that involved positive reinforcement (accessing preferred activities). It appears as if the generalization observed occurred primarily within a class of activities associated with negative reinforcement. Even though several activities associated with positive reinforcement were delivered in the same setting and were topographically similar to a te aching example involving negative reinforcement, no generalization was observed.

One plausible explanation for the outcome of the current investigation is that Sam exhibited narrow boundaries of generalization based on reinforcement function rather than physical characteristics of tasks. However, an alternative explanation is that Sam engaged in a conditional discrimination in which a competing response (challenging behavior) was perceived as being a more efficient response than a request for assistance in situations that involved positive reinforcement.

Drasgow, Halle, and Ostrosky (1998) taught each of three individuals with severe developmental disabilities to request desired activities in one setting. Subsequently, they implemented generalization probes in a different setting. As predicted, generalization was very limited. Next, the interventionists implemented an extinction phase in which well established but idiosyncratic communication forms were not reinforced. Participants began producing the newly taught, socially acceptable conventional symbol. These results suggested that when a competing behavior was made less efficient, the learners chose to use their newly established behavior. It is possible that Sam's schedule of reinforcement for challenging behavior in the context of preferred activities in the natural environment may have been different than it was for escape-motivated contexts. Although safeguards were taken during baseline to ensure that this was not the case, there were numerous other opportunities that could have occurred throughout Sam 's day. Future investigations should more carefully examine the influence that extinction of challenging behavior might have on the use of socially acceptable communicative alternatives. In the current investigation, it is possible that Sam chose not to engage in his new response with difficult- to-access preferred items. If his challenging behavior was sufficiently efficient, he would, in effect, have no reason to switch to the use of a more socially acceptable response.

Future research should focus on an exploration of variables that attempt to parse the effects of response efficiency from the development of conceptual relationships between antecedent events and responses produced. In the current investigation, it is clear that a communicative function (requesting assistance) encompassed both positive and negative reinforcement functions. The design of the current investigation would have been improved with the addition of a fourth leg of the multiple baseline in which a second group of preferred activities were added. This would have permitted us to determine, once activities associated with positive reinforcement entered intervention, whether the new response generalized to other activities associated with positive reinforcement. After the implementation of the procedures and results just described, interventionists systematically reduced the size of the request assistance symbol and placed it in Sam's communication wallet. Sam continued to maintain the use of the request assistance symbol.

Clinical implications of the current investigation suggest that interventionists should carefully consider the relationship between reinforcement functions of behavior including obtain goods, obtain attention, escape/avoid events, and taxonomies that describe communicative functions that represent viable alternatives to socially-motivated challenging behavior until a clearer functional relationship between the two is further explored.



Table 1

Preferred and Non preferred Difficult Activities

Preferred Items and Nonpreferred, Difficult Tasks
Actions that are
Difficult to Access Group A Group B

* McDonald's toys in * Turning on bathroom * Spraying table cleaner
 cellophone wrapper sink water faucet from aerosol can

* Opening a soda can * Buttoning shirt * Opening dishwasher

* Unwrapping hard * Serving self-food at * Tying shoe
 candy dinner

* Winding up a toy car * Spraying deodorant * Squirting toothpaste

* Turning on a tape

* Riding a two-wheeler

Criteria for Placing Items in Preferred or Nonpreferred Group
Table 2

Preferred and Nonpreferred Difficult Activities

Preferred Items and Nonpreferred, Difficult Tasks
Actions that are
Difficult to Access Group A Group B

* McDonald's toys in * Turning on bathroom * Spraying table cleaner
 cellophane wrapper sink water faucet from aerosol can

* Opening a soda can * Buttoning shirt * Opening dishwasher

* Unwrapping hard * Serving self-food * Tying shoe
 candy at dinner

* Winding up a toy car * Spraying deodorant * Squirting

* Turning on a tape

* Riding a two-wheeler

Dependent Measures


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(*.) Currently affiliated with The Pennsylvania State University

Kathryn Drager (*)

Author Note: Address correspondence to: Joe Reichie, College of Education, 102 Pattee Hall, 150 Pillsbury Dr., S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455

This work was supported in part by Grant No. HO24D40006, A Replication and Dissemination of a Model of Inservice Training and Technical Assistance to Prevent Challenging Behaviors in Young Children, from the U. S. Department of Education; and Grant No. HO29D050063, Preparation of Leadership Personnel: Training Leadership Personnel to Address the Needs of Preschoolers Who Engage in Challenging Behavior, U.S. Department of Education. This work was also supported by Grant #H133B80048, The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Community Living for Persons with Mental Retardation and Related Disabilities, Institute on Community Integration, NIDRR.
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Author:Reichie, Joe; Drager, Kathryn; Davis, Carol
Publication:Education & Treatment of Children
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2002
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