UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS
This exploratory R-21 project will test the hypotheses that apparent deficits in symbolic capacity shown by children with neurodevelopmental disabilities be may 1) explainable as deviant, typically unmeasured stimulus control processes rather than capacity limitations per se and 2) correctable by better measurment and procedural management of such processes. Our study population wil be nonverbal children with autism, a disorder charaterized by deficits in joint attention, symbolic functioning, and restriction in behavioral repertoires. Symbolic functioning will be measured in terms of test performances meeting the criteria for equivalence relations as defined in mathematical set theory. Our primary objective is to analyze inter - and intra-participant variability in the acquisition of equivalence relations, previously demonstrated in studies of children with autism and other neurodevelopmental disabilities. Will will compare procedures used in past studies with procedures designed specifically to minimize or eliminate stimulus control relations that we posit are incompatible with acquision of equivalence relations. The latter will control procedurally stimulus relations that have been left free to vary in past studies of functional and stimulus equivalence acquisition, including degree of learning set formation prior to functional equivalence tests, and the development of both positive and negative instances of relational control. Our studies are intended to advance understanding of the symbolic potential of nonverbal children with autism to develop procedural solutions to challenges in building on that potential in functional communication training.