This application seeks support for research to address the problem of stimulus overselectivity as it may impact stimulus control in functional academics and augmentative/alternative communication (AAC). Overselectivity refers to maladaptive narrow attending that is a common learning problem in children with intellectual disabilities. Overselectivity is often associated with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), but the research foundation for this relation is inconclusive and largely based on procedures that fail to capture the complex and dynamic relational learning aspects of special-education curricula. Recent research has produced methodologies to study overselectivity in contexts that model teaching situations, as well as promising remedial procedures that can reduce or eliminate overselective attending by corrective therapy and/or behavioral prostheses. We propose a formal comparison of stimulus overselectivity in four study populations: MA- and CA-matched children with ASD, Down syndrome, and intellectual disabilities of mixed/unknown etiology;and MA-matched typically developing children. Tests will include stimuli developed for basic research, as well as stimulus sets of clinical/educational interest (AAC icons, photos of faces, and printed words). We will determine whether an ASD diagnosis is related to (1) increased prevalence or severity of overselective stimulus control;(2) a deficit in the disengagement of attention and/or indifference to perceptual coherence of stimuli;and (3) the effectiveness, durability, and net gain resulting from intervention and remedial training. We will also apply behavior-analytic quantitative models of attention (4) to determine whether strategic manipulations of reinforcement parameters can be used to identify and ameliorate overselectivity that emerges from attention biases interacting with the uncontrolled reinforcement contingencies of teaching procedures typically used in special-education settings. Finally, (5) we will conduct a series of applied studies to examine generalization and durability of remedial interventions for academic tasks in special-education classrooms. Results of the proposed studies will contribute to a better characterization of the learning problems associated with the study populations and to increased understanding of basic stimulus control processes in learning. Application of the resulting knowledge seems highly likely to improve current methods for teaching and evaluating individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed research is highly relevant to the public health interests of NICHD and its Mental Retardation Developmental Disabilities Branch because it will contribute to the improvement of evaluation and teaching methods for individuals with autism and other intellectual disabilities. Specific areas of application include improvements in functional communication capabilities for children with moderate to severe disabilities.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
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Child Psychopathology and Developmental Disabilities Study Section (CPDD)
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Kau, Alice S
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University of Massachusetts Medical School Worcester
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Farber, Rachel S; Dickson, Chata A; Dube, William V (2017) Reducing overselective stimulus control with differential observing responses. J Appl Behav Anal 50:87-105
Dube, William V; Farber, Rachel S; Mueller, Marlana R et al. (2016) Stimulus Overselectivity in Autism, Down Syndrome, and Typical Development. Am J Intellect Dev Disabil 121:219-35
Farber, Rachel S; Dube, William V; Dickson, Chata A (2016) A sorting-to-matching method to teach compound matching to sample. J Appl Behav Anal 49:294-307
Dube, William V; Wilkinson, Krista M (2014) The potential influence of stimulus overselectivity in AAC: information from eye tracking and behavioral studies of attention with individuals with intellectual disabilities. Augment Altern Commun 30:172-85