The effects of motivating operations on levels of challenging behavior and academic engagement in the classroom



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Young children with autism often engage in challenging behaviors. Such behaviors can lead to social isolation and decreased time spent in instruction. Previous research has demonstrated that antecedent based interventions can reduce challenging behavior in young children with autism. These interventions often alter reinforcement contingencies in order to decrease challenging behavior. However, research has shown that it is also possible to target an individual's motivation to engage in challenging behavior. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects of a manipulation of the motivating operation on challenging behavior as well as academic engagement for young children with autism. A motivating operation (MO) alters the value of reinforcement as well as the frequency of behavior previously correlated with accessing reinforcement. When the value of reinforcement is decreased and the frequency of behavior correlated with that reinforcement is decreased, the abolishing operation is in effect. One method for reducing the value of reinforcement is to provide the individual with unrestricted access to reinforcement until the individual reaches a level of satiation. Through the use of the abolishing operation it is possible to alter the frequency of challenging behavior without altering reinforcement contingencies. In this study five young children with autism who engaged in challenging behavior were exposed to two conditions. One condition involved a manipulation of the abolishing operation in which participants were given unrestricted access to the consequence maintaining their challenging behavior prior to classroom sessions. In the second condition the participants entered into the classroom session without presession access to reinforcement. The influence of the abolishing operation was assessed with respect to levels of challenging behavior and levels of academic engagement in the classroom. Results demonstrated that presession access to the maintaining consequence of challenging behavior reduced challenging behavior and simultaneously increased academic engagement for all participants.