Research Projects

Current Areas of Investigation

Identification and Treatment of Sleep Problems

Sleep problems, commonly found among typically developing children, are even more prevalent in children with autism. One line of research at NECC is aimed at identifying children with sleep problems such as bed-time noncompliance, delayed sleep onset, night waking, early waking, and night terrors/nightmares. Various methods for measuring duration and quality of sleep, as well as efficiency of various assessments of sleep problems, are examined. Currently, a treatment protocol including sleep hygiene modifications, as well as more intensive sleep treatments when needed, is under investigation.

Enhancing Leisure Repertoires in Individuals with Developmental Disabilities

Adults with developmental disabilities can have a considerable amount of relatively unstructured “down-time” across their day. Significant changes in the overall quality of life can be produced by focusing on the development of leisure repertoires during childhood and adolescent years. Research at NECC is studying the development of leisure repertoires defined as follows: a variety of activities that an individual independently chooses to engage in, can engage in appropriately, are socially valid, relatively age-appropriate, relatively complex, and in which participation does not require ongoing artificial reinforcement. We are currently investigating methods for increasing behavioral variability in the context of leisure, in addition to examining methods for increasing the reinforcing value of newly acquired leisure activities.

Problem Behavior during Dental Exams

This area of research focuses on assessing and treating problem behavior that interferes with routine dental examinations in order to improve cooperation with dental exam procedures and hopefully improve dental health care.  After verifying the function of the problem behavior, treatment that is matched to the function of problem behavior is implemented.  These treatments include initially reducing the number of procedures students are exposed to during the exam and gradually increasing it over time (demand fading), re-presentation of exam procedures when interfering behavior occurs (escape extinction), pre-scheduling breaks during exams (noncontingent escape), and arranging breaks following cooperative behavior (contingent escape).

Evaluation of Healthful Foods as Reinforcers

Research on the assessment of stimulus preference has evaluated a number of methods for developing predictive hierarchies of preference, however, the highest preference edibles are often snack foods. Frequent use of snack foods as edible reinforcers may exacerbate unhealthy diets, inadequate exercise, and poor oral hygiene for our students. As a result, one area of research is aimed at evaluating the displacement of  healthful foods by snack foods in combined preference assessments, and reinforcer effectiveness of healthful foods for skill acquisition and/or behavior management.