Theses Doctoral

Basic Relational Concept and Verbal Behavior Development in Preschool Children With and Without Autism Spectrum Disorder

Bancroft, Alexis Branca

The current study investigates basic, relational concept development, as measured by the Boehm Test of Basic Concepts 3rd Edition – Preschool Version (BTBC3-P), in 51 preschool aged children (Mage = 49.26 months; SD = 8.53 months) with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) attending the same Comprehensive Application of Behavior Analysis to Schooling (CABAS©) preschool. Relational concepts represent spatial, dimensional, temporal, quantitative, and class relationships between objects or people (i.e., above and behind). They predict academic achievement in grades two and three and are essential for following directions, making comparisons, sequencing, and classifying—the foundational skills for more complex problem solving (Boehm, 2013; Steinbauer & Heller, 1978). Relational concepts are difficult to learn, represent less tangible and stable relationships, and are often acquired incidentally (Boehm, 2001). Research in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has found that incidental learning generally does not occur until a child masters the naming capability (Greer & Longano, 2010). Naming is a phenomenon that involves a circular understanding whereby a child can see a nonverbal term (i.e., a picture or a word), name that term, hear themselves naming the term, and then select the appropriate representation of that term without direct instruction (Horne & Lowe 1996). Naming is the mechanism through which success in traditional classroom settings is possible, such that once a child has attained the naming capability, that child can learn through observation or by asking questions if he/she sees or hears something novel (i.e., “What is pesto?” Greer & Longano, 2010; Greer & Speckman, 2009).
Considering the widespread use of ABA to help children with ASD develop language, this study investigated relational concept acquisition using an ABA (i.e., Verbal Behavior Development Theory [VBDT]) framework. Overall, preschool children with ASD knew significantly fewer total concepts, quantitative concepts, and spatial concepts than their typically developing (TD) counterparts. In addition, the more VBD cusps and capabilities a child attained, the more concepts he/she correctly identified (R2 VBD= .054 with diagnosis held constant). Further, regardless of diagnosis and student progression of VBD, naming was a significant predictor of total concepts known (R2 naming = .114), as well as of concepts known not covered in the C-PIRK© curriculum (R2 naming = .099) used at the preschool. The latter finding supports previous studies that identify naming as a prerequisite to incidental learning.
A secondary aim of this dissertation investigated the actions of the examiner required to keep children motivated and on task by creating an Assessor’s Tactic Checklist that lists a number of behavioral techniques to build motivation and increase assessment validity. Overall, diagnosis and naming were related to the number of assessor’s tactics used, with those children with ASD and children without naming requiring significantly more types of tactics than those without (approximately two more types for ASD and two and a half more types for those without naming).
Implications for future studies include exploring the rate of concept learning pre and post naming acquisition as well as working to uncover the mechanisms through which naming affects concept acquisition. There is also an identified need for continued exploration into the usefulness of an Assessor’s Tactic Checklist. Strengths and weaknesses of the study are also addressed.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
School Psychology
Thesis Advisors
Brassard, Marla R.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 14, 2017