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Laboratory Models of Maladaptive Escape Behaviors

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

The purpose is to study environmental conditions that make typically reinforcing conditions aversive for persons with developmental disabilities and chronic destructive behaviors. Collaborators are Kate Saunders at the Parsons LSI, Mike Perone from West Virginia University, Iser DeLeon and Mike Cataldo from the Kennedy Krieger Center of Johns Hopkins Medical School. This project, which is a follow-up of a previously funded R03 grant from NICHD, continues the translation of Dr. Perone’s basic behavioral research using animal subjects to address a clinical problem. The findings will inform the development of new behavioral treatments for chronic aberrant behaviors (CAB) in persons with MR/DD.

The previous project (also funded by NICHD) showed that the animal research could be replicated with human participants with mild MR. The primary finding is that normally reinforcing activities can become aversive and generate disruptive, escape, and off-task behaviors when they are embedded in specific environmental contexts. Like the animal participants in previous studies, the human participants would easily complete tasks for monetary reinforcement when that task was presented by itself. However, when opportunities to complete a more preferred task, "B," in which they received a larger reward than in task "A," were randomly alternated with task A, responding on task "A" was severely disrupted. Behavioral research on CAB has shown that escape functions maintain the majority of undesirable behaviors in persons with developmental disabilities. What the research on escape-maintained aberrant behavior does not address are the environmental conditions that make typically reinforcing or neutral activities aversive, and capable of generating and maintaining these maladaptive escape behaviors.

The present research is designed to address the question of whether these environmental conditions will differentially produce self-stimulatory, or destructive behaviors in persons with histories of CAB. The early studies, supported by the R03, were conducted with humans in laboratory settings. In the new series of studies, we also will investigate tasks that are selected from activities that are functional to the participants. In this phase, preference for the activities will be assessed and we will determine whether transitions from preferred to less-preferred activities will induce CAB, while transitions from one less-preferred activity to another lesspreferred activity do not produce CAB. The final studies will be to observe participants in their actual living settings and manipulate daily activity schedules. Experimental treatments have been suggested by the laboratory studies and will be tested in the naturalistic settings.

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