Date of Award

5-1-2013

Degree Name

Master of Science

Department

Behavior Analysis and Therapy

First Advisor

Dixon, Mark

Abstract

Skinner (1957) published a theoretical viewpoint of verbal behavior that suggested a comprehensive behavioral account of language. However, this publication contained no empirical research and expanded only conceptually on the basic principles of operant conditioning with nonhuman organisms. Since this publication, there has been some research to support the concepts of verbal operants described by Skinner (1957), yet the research has been of relative limited scope and depth (Dymond et al., 2006). In the decades that followed Skinner's text, a number of empirical and conceptual advances have been documented which have concluded that language learning is more complex than initially thought (Hayes et al., 2001). A number of applied curriculum and assessment protocols have been developed to use Skinner's concepts of language to teach such skills to children with autism and related disabilities. However, those published documents contain no empirical support of their effectiveness, and do not include either a) post-1957 Skinner era behavior analysis or b) concepts found in Skinner's own 1957 text beyond the basic verbal operants. As a result, the present study examined the utility of a new behavior analytic system to teach language and cognition to children with autism and related disorders. Specifically, this study evaluated the relationships between the PEAK Relational Training System and the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test and the Illinois Early Learning Standards. Also, the research looked at the effects of a novel implementer compared to a familiar caregiver. Using 13 children (ages 3-8) exposed to the PEAK system for a period of three months, it was found that educational gains were observed in all students. Furthermore, there was a positive correlation of the PEAK Relational Training System and the PPVT. Also a positive correlation was found between the PEAK score and the Illinois Early Learning Standards. The data also suggests that the PEAK Relational Training System can be implemented with same procedural fidelity with a novice implementer compared to a familiar caregiver.

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