Reinforcers as Predictors of Outcome in Behavioral Interventions for Autism
There is ample support for interventions based on Applied Behavior Analysis as effective in teaching children with autism skills that they lack. However, studies consistently report large variations in outcomes. Given the central role of positive reinforcement in behavior analytic treatments, a series of studies were conducted to test the hypothesis that children whose behavior is reinforced by a large range of stimuli will benefit more in treatment. Using a new outcome metric, learn rates, this hypothesis was confirmed in two studies. One study employed adult reports on child reinforcers, and a second study utilized a novel scoring system for direct evaluation of child behavior in an already existing, and widely used, structured assessment. Building on these findings, we go on to suggest that the concept of reinforcement can be used to construct a behavior analytic theory for the etiology of autism, compatible with what is known about genetics, early signs and plasticity of autistic symptoms.