The Development of Interests in Children with Autism: A Method to Establish Baselines for Analyses and Evaluation Page: 3
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The Development of Interests in Children with Autism: A Method
to Establish Baselines for Analyses and Evaluation
SHAHLA ALA'I-ROSALES AND NICOLE M. ZEUG, THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH
TEXAS AND TANYA Y. BAYNHAM, UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS
By definition, children with autism have limited interests. While considerable efforts have been directed
toward the social and communication difficulties faced by children with autism, less attention has been
directed towards understanding the development and acquisition of new interests. Such understanding
may help autism interventionists establish increasingly diverse and complex interests thereby increasing
reinforcing events, learning opportunities, activity participation, and social engagement. This paper
describes an observational system for monitoring reinforcer diversity and event engagement during
naturalistic teaching portions of an early intervention program. Data are presented for two children. It is
suggested that such measures are necessary for two reasons. First, given the lack of empirical support
and the importance of reinforcers, there is a need for measurement systems to monitor the
development of interests in early intervention programs for children with autism. Second, there is a
paucity of research addressing expansion of interests. Developing measurement systems increases the
likelihood that evidence-based practices will emerge. Hopefully, these efforts will increase our
knowledge, increase child preference for instruction, and open avenues for enhanced instructional and
life opportunities based on expanded interests.
By definition, children with autism have
restricted activities and interests and appear to
be motivated by a limited number of unusual
events rather than motivated by the wide
variety of events common to their peers
without disabilities (American Psychiatric
Association, 2000). It has long been recognized
that the limited or unusual motivation observed
in children with autism is a central concern
having implications for intervention and for
long-term outcome (e.g., Lovaas, et al., 1966;
Ferster, 1961; Koegel & Egel, 1979). The
purpose of this paper is to provide rationales
for expanding the interests of children within
early intervention programs, to highlight
promising practices for expanding interests, and
to offer a preliminary method for establishing
baselines that capture the development of
interests and allow practitioners to objectively
evaluate the effects of their efforts to diversify
the interests of the children they serve.
THE IMPORTANCE OF DIVERSE
INTERESTS AND ACTIVITIES
Many child development theories, including
behavioral systems theories, suggest that one
of the ways children develop is through their
engagement in play and through their
continuously expanding interests, allowing
contact with new environmental stimuli that
result in further potential for increased
knowledge and advanced skill repertoires
(Novak & Pelaez, 2004). In fact, when
introducing the concept of acquired reinforcers,
Novak and Pelaez suggest that, "It is partly the
unique set of reinforcers a person acquires that
determines that person's special repertoire of
behaviors (pp. 194, 2004)." In other words, our
behaviors appear to be strongly tied to our
interests or preferences for events. One
conceptual and pragmatic model for
understanding the effects of varied interests on
children is the "behavioral cusp" (Rosales-Ruiz
& Baer, 1997). The term behavioral cusp
describes the outcomes of any behavior-change
procedure that produces broad, pervasive, or
especially important changes in the child's
environments, reinforcers or opportunities.
Increased rates and diversification of interests
and the subsequent opportunities that emerge
could be viewed as behavioral cusps in children
with autism (Ala'i-Rosales, Smith, & Elden-
Smith, 2008). At the most fundamental level it is
Shahla Ala'i-Rosales et, al.
Behavioral Development Bulletin
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Ala'i-Rosales, Shahla; Zeug, Nicole M. & Baynham, Tanya Y. The Development of Interests in Children with Autism: A Method to Establish Baselines for Analyses and Evaluation, article, 2008; [Portage, Michigan]. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc39320/m1/1/: accessed January 19, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT College of Public Affairs and Community Service.