Article Details

Research Database: Article Details

Citation:  White, E.R., Hoffmann, B., Hoch, H., Taylor, B.A. (2011). Teaching teamwork to adolescents with autism: The cooperative use of activity schedules. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 4 (1), 27-35.
Title:  Teaching teamwork to adolescents with autism: The cooperative use of activity schedules
Authors:  White, E.R., Hoffmann, B., Hoch, H., Taylor, B.A.
Year:  2011
Journal/Publication:  Behavior Analysis in Practice
Publisher:  Assn for Behavior Analysis International (US)
Full text:    |   PDF   
Peer-reviewed?  Yes
NIDILRR-funded?  No

Structured abstract:

Background:  Due to unique learning and behavioral challenges, teaching individuals with autism to work in groups often requires systematic and explicit programming. . It may become necessary to increase each individual learner’s independence in order to make group instruction an efficient and effective strategy and to allow individuals with autism to learn vocational and domestic tasks as a group or in pairs.Photographic and written activity schedules have also shown promise as a means to increase independence and reduce reliance on instructional prompting . Photographic prompts or written descriptions of activities are placed in a binder or list that may be used to cue a learner to complete a response chain. To date, most studies involving the use of activity schedules with individuals with autism have taught participants to follow a schedule individually. The joint activity schedule differed from standard schedules in that two children referenced a single schedule, which included a picture of the participant responsible for initiating the designated game on each page. the joint activity schedule led to an increase in peer engagement. These types of joint activity schedules have the potential benefit of reducing staffing ratios, because they allow two or more learners to engage in an activity under the occasional supervision of a single staff member.
Purpose:  To extend the research on activity schedules by teaching pairs of adolescents with autism to complete vocational tasks cooperatively by following a single activity schedule.
Setting:  All of the participants attended a behaviorally based school serving individuals with autism (average length of enrollment for the participants was 12 years at the time of the study). We conducted sessions in either the main office or the kitchen of the school. The first two authors, who were senior level teachers and who had worked at the school for approximately 6 and 8 years respectively, conducted all sessions.
Study sample:  Six teenage males. All were independently diagnosed with autism as toddlers by outside physicians according to DSM-III criteria and exhibited significant de cits in language, socialization, and self-care skills. Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales composite scores revealed low levels of adaptive functioning in the areas communication and socialization for all participants.
Intervention:  The three tasks selected were cleaning the kitchen, replenishing kitchen supplies, and cleaning the main office. Cleaning the kitchen consisted of 18 steps, replenishing kitchen supplies contained 15 steps, and cleaning the office entailed 11 steps. Each schedule was presented in a list format according to the sequence of steps in the assigned task. Procedure is Baseline->Intervention->Intervention->Probe Sessions->Procedure to fade experimenter presence and thin schedule of reinforcement Intervention included two types of sessions, teaching sessions and probe sessions. Due to the challenges of collecting data reliably while providing effective prompts and delivering well-timed reinforcers, we opted to not collect data during teaching sessions and instead to schedule probe sessions to occur every third or fourth session to provide an opportunity for data collection. While this issue could have been resolved by assigning someone other than the experimenter to serve as the primary data collector, it was fundamental to the study that we develop an effective procedure to allow a single staff member to manage the implementation of the procedures with two participants at the same time.
Control or comparison condition:  The performance of each pair of participants when given a single activity schedule was assessed in baseline. The experimenters brought each pair to the location where their assigned task would be completed (e.g., participants assigned to replenish supplies were brought to the kitchen) and presented them with the schedule (i.e., a single schedule containing photo and/or text cues describing each step) and a dry erase marker. The experimenter directed the participants to begin the task (e.g., the experimenter said, “Please, replenish the supplies”) but provided no prompts, reinforcers, or error correction. The experimenter remained in the same room but at least 2 m away from both participants for the entire session. If a participant attempted to leave the area, he was asked to stay in the assigned area. An individual baseline session ended either when the task was completed or when both participants stopped working completely for three consecutive 1-min time samples observations.
Data collection and analysis:  We defined cooperatively completing a schedule as both participants remaining on task, following the single schedule correctly (e.g., completing the steps in order), and refraining from repeating steps already completed by one’s partner. We used a multiple baseline design across pairs of participants to examine the effects of prompting and reinforcer delivery on schedule following (i.e., percentage of component responses completed correctly and by only one of the participants) and the number of steps completed by each member of the pair.
Findings:  All three pairs met the 80% criterion to complete tasks cooperatively using a single activity schedule. Another way to assess cooperative behavior is to examine the number of task components completed by each participant during each condition to determine if the task was divided and completed evenly. More detail; The results of this study are promising, and indicate that individuals with autism can be taught to complete multi-step tasks cooperatively using a single activity schedule. In addition, participants often repeated tasks already completed by their partner during the baseline phase Once teaching began, data collected during the probe sessions revealed that accuracy in schedule following increased for all participants and the task components completed by each participant became equivalent indicating that the participants completed the task cooperatively. Although all of the participants in this study had the prerequisite skill of following a schedule to complete the designated tasks independently, they all required specific instruction to follow and complete an activity schedule cooperatively. This critical finding indicates that the ability to follow an activity schedule cooperatively is a distinct skill from following an individual activity schedule. Nevertheless, it is likely that some degree of proficiency in completing an activity schedule independently (without a peer) is an important prerequisite to learning to follow a schedule cooperatively. Moreover, skill in independent schedule-following may facilitate the efficient teaching of cooperative schedule following, and, as demonstrated in this study, may allow participants to remain on-task while staff members monitor them from further away. In addition to competency in independently following an activity schedule, we noted two other important prerequisite skills. First, mastery (or near mastery) in completing each com- ponent of the task was important, as it permitted experimenters to focus on teaching cooperative schedule-following without the diversion of teaching discrete task components to a single participant. Appropriate waiting surfaced as a second relevant prerequisite skill. During teaching, it was sometimes necessary to require one participant to wait while staff prompted or corrected the second participant. Two ways to circumvent this prerequisite skill are to ensure each learner can complete the task accurately when working alone and to individually pre-teach crossing off steps on the activity schedule before completing them. Selecting appropriate tasks was an important aspect of the study’s design. It was critical that designated tasks could be completed using a single schedule, and that the steps of the task could be completed in any order: that is, no single step could rely on completion of a previous step. Thus, if one participant was working on a single time-consuming step without waiting for his partner to finish his step. Tasks requiring that component steps be completed in a precise order may not lend themselves to this type of schedule.
Conclusions:  Individuals with autism learn to function in environments with reduced staffing ratios. In order for these individuals to continue to maintain skills and master new tasks with less instructional attention, practitioners must begin to incorporate strategies for delivering instruction in pairs or groups. We showed the viability of using activity schedules to teach adolescents with autism to complete vocational tasks cooperatively. These findings provide a promising direction for pairing individuals during instruction both throughout and beyond the school years.

Disabilities served:  Autism / ASD
Populations served:  Transition-age youth (14 - 24)
Interventions:  Training and technical assistance
Vocational rehabilitation