For this study, two participants who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are selected. Namely, three children aged between 9 and 11 years are regarded as the ones having ASD, as stated by the licensed psychologist. All of the participants have language skills, yet they experience a lack of expressive language and struggle with learning in inclusive classes. Two of the participants, Andie and Judy, are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and Alex has Asperger’s syndrome. Andie and Judy are characterized as the students having moderate levels of communication, while Alex has pronounced social interaction challenges.
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All of them have difficulties with letter recognition, sound identification, and sound production in some cases. The sample selection criteria include problems with learning, ASD, and the presence of off-task behaviors. The latter involves poor concentration, work non-compliance, and problems with proper responses to teachers’ instructions. The parents of the participants received informed consent forms and signed them before the study, which indicates that ethical considerations were implemented.
The participants who are chosen for this study learn in different 6:1:2 self-contained structured classrooms. These inclusive classrooms provide the opportunity for children with autism to communicate with their peers, who often act as role models. The sessions of the token economy are to be conducted in a separate area of the classroom so that to make sure that other students also learn according to their programs.
The front of the door is equipped with a sensory station where the students can go and tap to receive a reward for the task that was completed successfully. The individualized schedule for token economy interventions is to be designed, and the Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS) systems mandated by the Individualized Education Program (IEP) are to be provided to each of the participants. The tokens are to be located on the smart board for the convenience of the students. Each of the classrooms contains approximately 20 children and two teachers.
The materials to be used for this study include tablets with a token economy application named “Token Board” installed on them. Another possible way to track the progress of the educational sessions is a physical token board. Some tangible and visual tokens that the students would earn are expected to stimulate the desired behavior. In case of applying the tangible tokens, the templates are to be printed. A table, chair, and datasheets are to be prepared as well.
A multiple baseline design will be used to conduct the study since it is the most relevant way to analyze one independent variable with the presence of several dependent variables (Ferron, Moeyaert, Van den Noortgate, & Beretvas, 2014). In order to determine how the token economy system helps to diminish off-task behaviors in children with autism, two basic interventions will be provided to each of the participants. The cumulative treatment will be used to answer the research question. The participants will start at the same time as the baseline intervention. Andie and Judy will receive the interventions for trials 4 through 9, returning to the baseline at trial 10. Alex will receive the intervention earlier (trials 3 through 7) since he has limited social interaction skills compared to other participants. Three phases will be provided before coming back to the baseline intervention.
There will be ten trials for each of the participants, and the data collected will be recorded by using a 100 percent chart. +/- signs will be used to note the positive and negative responses of students, while the prolonged response will be counted as a positive one. During the baseline phase, the participants will be given the traditional tasks with no additional changes. In trial phases, they will be offered the token system with several supplemental interventions. In particular, trials 2-5 will be supported by immediate positive reinforcement, and trials 6-9 will include peer support intervention. The final baseline trial will be similar to the initial one.
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The objects or privileges that the child loves and enjoys will be used as immediate reinforcement. Such a token system will work because the tokens are paired with the benefits of direct reinforcement, and the child would have rewards only for participating in the desired behavior. Due to this, it is expected that the target behavior will occur more often. The peer support system will be applied to encourage the students with autism to engage in the offered activities. The peers should be trained in advance to be able to give positive feedback and reinforcement by redirecting the attention of the participant. For example, verbal encouragement can be used with the following phrases: “you can definitely do it,” “thumbs up,” and so on.
Social validity refers to the potential possibility of analysis to enhance society in the course of its implementation or as a result of awareness of its value for people. In this study, the researcher explores a rather significant problem of autism in students in the context of improving their learning abilities in inclusive classrooms. The expected outcomes of this study are likely to clarify the ways that can be used by teachers to educate children having ASD more effectively. The goals of the study are consistent with those identified by Autism Organizations worldwide (Callahan et al., 2017). The results produced are anticipated to shed light on the field of autism spectrum disorders, setting the foundation for further research and practice.
In order to achieve social validity, the impact of the following factors should be considered and reduced as much as possible.
- Do the background events that occur during the experiment, along with the influence of the experimental factors, should be minimized?
- Do the changes in the subjects that are not related to specific events but are the result of the passage of time (for example, increased hunger or fatigue) should be prevented to avoid bias?
- How often does the given problem occur in students?
- Is it likely that the teachers and parents would apply the token system?
- Do the interventions designed for the mentioned participants are acceptable and ethical?
Independent and Dependent Variables
Off-task behavior is the key independent variable that is the essence of this study. It is to be observed by the researcher during the data collection phase to compare the baseline and trial data. Behavioral observation is the method to be utilized to understand the responses of participants. The following behaviors should be considered off-task: playing with materials instead of learning, talking to peers, and looking around the classroom for a long time. In general, all these issues point to the fact that the student is not concentrated on the given assignment.
Work completion is the first dependent variable that is defined as the number of tasks finished. The number of questions and responses is to be calculated based on everyday observations—the second dependent variable, peer support that is an additional factor of a successful token system economy.
One peer for each of the participants is to be chosen and trained to provide assistance. The immediate positive reinforcement is the third dependent variable, the importance of which lies in providing the student with a greater stimulus to show expected behaviors. For the purpose of generalization, the trials are to use identical data collection methods, thus making sure that the results can be applied to a broader context. The study integrity is accomplished via the peer support intervention and the evaluation of the data collected by two independent observers.
In terms of the interobserver agreement (IOA), the second teacher is to monitor 50% of the intervention sessions to ensure their appropriateness. It is also possible to ask a parent of one of the peers to perform the role of the second observer. The guidelines for identifying the correct answers of students are to be determined in advance so that both observers can be objective, using the same criteria. When the student gives the right answer or action within one to three minutes, it is to be considered that he or she responds correctly. In case the prompt is required to complete the task, it is an incorrect response. Upon the completion of all the trials, data will be compared, and the scores will be calculated on a trial basis.
Callahan, K., Hughes, H. L., Mehta, S., Toussaint, K. A., Nichols, S. M., Ma, P. S.,… Wang, H. T. (2017). Social validity of evidence-based practices and emerging interventions in autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 32(3), 188-197.
Ferron, J. M., Moeyaert, M., Van den Noortgate, W., & Beretvas, S. N. (2014). Estimating causal effects from multiple-baseline studies: Implications for design and analysis. Psychological Methods, 19(4), 493-510.