This Fast-track application addresses the problem of teaching children with autism and related intellectual disabilities to discriminate among items of relatively greater or lesser symbolic value. The context for instruction is an evolving suite of computer-based and computer-managed matching-to-sample programs for teaching functional money skills. Foundational work accomplished thus far has demonstrated effective methodology for teaching critical prerequisite skills, among them (a) to discriminate individual coins and coin combinations on the basis of identity, (b) to relate different coin combinations of equivalent value (e.g., 25 cents with 5 nickels), and (c) to select series of different coin combinations of equivalent value from a large unsorted pool that provides a number of potentially valid choices (e.g., given a 25 cent sample to select combinations of two dimes and a nickel, a dime and three nickels, and/or five nickels). The current money skills program has implemented a number of state-of-the-art curricular approaches including potentially errorless assessment and instruction, stimulus equivalence development, automated decision-making algorithms for assessing student progress and determining advancement within the program, and methods for encouraging facile generalization from computer-based training to tabletop environments and vice versa. The proposed addition to the money skills teaching suite has the working title ValueTeacher (VT). As the name implies, the VT program takes the next logical step in money skills training, explicitly teaching children to discriminate coins and coin combinations of greater vs. lesser value and to make inferences based on such relationships. The computer-managed VT program will take advantage of a number of advanced behavioral programming procedures, among them multiple and concurrent schedules of reinforcement, percentile-based automated shaping of progressively finer value judgments, and outcome-specific reinforcement. In Phase 1, prototype software will be developed to assess and teach discrimination of coin values up to 50 cents as proof of concept. In Phase 2, the procedures will be extended to values up to $5.00 and incorporated within a state-of-the-art user interface that will promote effective use of the program by behavior therapists, special education teachers, and other educators of children with intellectual disabilities. In both Phases, additional curricula will be provided to assist in generalization of skills acquired in the classroom to real-world purchasing situations.
Our objective is to complete development of the MERIT suite, a computer-based curriculum that can potentially prepare children who have the requisite cognitive capacity to use money independently. We believe that the MERIT product suite has the potential to significantly improve the effectiveness of money skills instruction for children with intellectual disabilities, many of whom make at best slow and uneven progress in learning this critical skill.