Teaching functional skills to autistic children in natural settings: Skill acquisition, maintenance and generalisation

Year: 1994

Author: Neilsen, Cathrine M., Bowes, Jennifer M.

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The present investigation examined a training package that included functional skill training, task analysis, reinforcement and modelling procedures in teaching four autistic children, aged 5-8 years, two self-help skills, crossing the road and turning a jumper in the correct way. A significant goal in the education of autistic children is to ensure the generalisation of newly acquired responses from the training milieu to the natural environment. Unless particular steps are taken to avoid the problem, the gains following treatment tend to be situation-specific. Emphasis was placed in this program on techniques that would enhance generalisation of skills to other environments (e.g., natural environments, multiple training settings, varying the materials used, varying the type of reinforcement, teaching functional skills). The tasks were broken down into smaller steps, each of which could be taught individually. Reinforcement was based on a continuous schedule with sessions conducted in a one-to-one setting.

Three of the four children mastered task efficiency at the completion of the 16 instructional sessions. A two-month post-test confirmed both the generalisation and maintenance of skills for all four children. Results are discussed with respect to the potentially important role of intrinsically motivational stimuli and multiple training environments in facilitating maintenance and generalisation of functional skills in autistic children.