Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dixon, Mark


Current research has shown differences in eye gaze, or ocular observing responses amongst individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) compared with their typically developing counterparts, and with individuals with developmental disabilities other than autism. Eye gaze is currently studied as a predictor for ASD diagnoses and as a potential predictive level of social deficit for individuals already diagnosed with autism. Deficits in language and communication are also studied as predictive risk factors for ASD, and are identified as areas for treatment for individuals with autism. As a behavior analytic account of language, Relational Frame Theory (RFT) suggests that language development is attributed to the development of derived relational responding repertoires. A growing body of literature suggests that there is great benefit in behavior analytic treatment methods for autism that incorporate procedures rooted in RFT. Specifically, relational training procedures that promote derived relational responding (DRR) have been shown to improve language repertoires for children with autism. Previous research using typically developing adults has also suggested that accuracy in eye gaze on relational tasks improves as individuals demonstrate the emergence of novel derived relations. By combining the benefits of relational training procedures on outcomes of language development with technology used to understand eye gaze behaviors, behavior analysts may be able to better understand how to target specific behaviors in treatment that may indirectly improve eye gaze. In turn, improvements in eye gaze may assist in increasing socially significant and helpful behaviors such as attending to appropriate social stimuli within the environment. The current series of studies investigated the relationship between DRR repertoires and ocular observing responses in individuals with autism. Study 1 examined the relationship between DRR of equivalence relations with latency to respond to task items, as well as eye fixation duration and fixation rate toward correct stimuli in the assessment. The results from this study showed a strong, positive correlation between fixation rate and duration with assessment scores. These results suggest more advanced DRR repertoires lead to longer and more frequent eye gaze toward correct stimuli. Study 2 investigated changes in latency to respond as well as changes rate and duration of eye fixations as participants were taught novel relations and tested for the emergence of derived responding. All four participants in the study demonstrated an increase in fixation to correct stimuli from baseline to treatment. Study 3 sought to evaluate the impact that relational training techniques have on eye gaze following a 6-week intervention period compared to a more traditional treatment technique and a waitlist control. Eye gaze measures were assessed before and after the intervention using three different categories of videos of social situations: Person Telling a Story, Conversations, and Social Imaginative Play. Results suggested that the relational training procedure had the most significant impact on eye gaze for Conversation videos compared to a direct contingency group and a waitlist control group. Taken together, the results suggest the potential impact that RFT-based treatments have on ocular observing responses for children with ASD, and how improvements may benefit appropriate eye gaze toward a social environment.




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