MRC-NECC conducts applied research on best practices in autism treatment.  The goal of all MRC-NECC research projects is to improve the efficacy of our treatment programs.  Some examples of current or proposed projects are:

            Establishing Social Stimuli as Conditioned Reinforcers.  This line of research examines the most effective and efficient procedures to establish social stimuli as conditioned reinforcers.  Baseline reinforcer assessments for social stimuli are followed by comparison of procedures to establish neutral social stimuli as conditioned reinforcers. Procedures we have recently investigated include: (1) standard stimulus-stimulus pairing, (2) a procedure in which the social stimuli are established as discriminative stimuli, and (3) procedures in which the social stimuli are presented briefly in second-order schedules of reinforcement.  Variations and extensions of the procedures and replication across multiple MRC-NECC students are under way.

Assessment and Remediation of Discrimination Performances.  This project examines staff-, student-, and curriculum variables related to the discrimination performances of participants who do and do not make sufficient progress in acquisition of discrimination performances.  The study involves first identifying potential causes of performance deficits and then intervening to maximize each participants’ learning.

Functional communication training (FCT) to reduce challenging behavior. Challenging behavior is the most commonly reported reason why parents of autism seek services. However, challenging behavior is often correlated with limited communication skills, a core feature of autism. FCT has been shown to be one of the most effective treatments for challenging behavior because children with autism are taught to recruit the presumably valuable reinforcer maintaining their challenging behavior in more socially-appropriate ways. We will systematically replicate and extend previous research on FCT by analyzing the acquisition of mands with different teaching procedures. We will also evaluate strategies for thinning the schedule of reinforcement following FCT to ensure that our treatment is practical.