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Ep.79- Friendship- An Aggressively Objective Analysis

show notes Jan 04, 2023
podcast art related to the social skills and social stories episode.


In this podcast, we talk about a new JABA article all about building objective friendship building skills. Usually, I am not a fan of social skills research, but this article was really cool to me due to how objective and specific the whole analysis was. 

After talking about the article, we answer a question from a practitioner on social stories!


Hood, S.A., Gopez, J.M., Fallon, M.J., Byczynski, F.A., Aquino, S.C. and Monroy, S. (2022), The beginning of a friendship: Teaching individuals with autism to identify shared interests. Jnl of Applied Behav Analysis, 55: 1030-1058.

Transcript for the episode!

Note- This was generated using AI, and may not be completely accurate or may read a little "funny." For the best experience, please listen to the podcast and read along!

  [00:00:00] Welcome to the Behaviorist Book Club. We are a community of practitioners focused on helping your clients achieve meaningful and socially significant behavior change. This is your host Matt Harrington.

  [00:00:19] Hello everyone and welcome to the Behaviorist Book Club podcast. This podcast is for research focused practitioners looking to bridge the gap between the research that we read and of course the clinical work that we spend our time in. We're going to be reviving some solo podcasts in the JABA in one take series. I really like the fact that we can just go through a JABA article and chat about it. We'll be casual, relaxed, and most of all, I hope we'll learn a little bit of something about the practitioner point of view and the way that we can apply research in our day to day life. So let's go over this new article that was just published in 2022. It's called The Beginning of Friendship. Teaching Individuals With Autism to Identify Shared Interests. This was by Hood and colleagues, and like I said, 2022 in the 55-4 issue of JABA.

  [00:01:18] All right. So generally speaking, this article was looking to tackle the problem or the challenges that some autistic individuals may experience with friendship. Friendship as a objective set of behaviors can be really hard to quantify. There's a lot of social cues that go both seen and unseen, assumed, things like that. And a lot of times it's hard to get objective and discreet observations of these things. And sometimes autistic individuals can struggle reading some of those social cues.

  [00:01:53] As, of course, a caveat. Whenever we talk about social skills with the autistic individuals that we serve for, really anyone we serve, we should always be focused on social relevance and social validity. That is, we want to make sure that the person we're teaching actually wants to learn. So including the individual in the goals, selection and kind of a values clarification process is essential whenever we're teaching any skills, but especially social skills and things like that.

 [00:02:25] So what the authors then go into a short little conversation about what is friendship. What are those objective things that we can break down? Well, they're all a variety of different social skills, everything from the introduction to moving forward and approaching a group of individuals to starting and then continuing our conversation based on shared interest, identifying shared interests to then talk about later. And really a lot of different conditional discriminations. This talks about audience control when the audience that we're speaking to exert some control over our verbal behavior. For example, with some friend groups, I'm much more willing to talk about behavior analysis because I know that they're my ABA buddies. They're going to give me reinforcement for getting nerdy over differential reinforcement of alternative behavior, whereas when I talk to other groups, they're probably not going to give me that same amount of reinforcement. That's a conditional discrimination that we make when we're talking with X. They're going to reinforce one topic and we're talking with Y, they're going to reinforce another topic.

 [00:03:38] With social skills, another challenge can be the difficulty of teaching. It's no surprise that teaching social skills, when we're talking about the struggles of even identifying a specific set of goals and objectives, it can be even harder to teach those objectives. The kind of best case scenario for this is, of course, behavioral skills training, instruction, modeling, role play and feedback, and that's been used on a variety of different goals, whether it be, you know, social skills goals to teaching goals to, you know, staff training goals. Behavioral skills training is really one of our landmark procedures within ABA to work on teaching variety of different skills.

  [00:04:24] So this article, the purpose was to use behavioral skills training, to teach participants, to teach participants how to participate within conversation topics, and specifically how to shift topics and identify shared topics based on kids. So things like ending a conversation when an individual isn't interested in the topic. Continuing a conversation when there are those discriminative stimuli that shows that they want to continue the conversation. And overall, using behavioral skills training the whole way through.

  [00:05:02] This is a really interesting article. To my knowledge, this is really one of the most objective stances that I've seen. Taking on social skills is a very, very welcome addition, in my mind to this literature base. I have not been shy about the fact that I really struggle teaching social skills, anything from a social group to those kind of conversation vollies. It's really a challenge for me, and I really don't see a lot of guidance within the literature. There's a lot of really good research, but a lot of it kind of leaves a little bit to be desired when it comes to that objective, practical things that we as practitioners can use. This article, based on my read, really does stand apart in this complicated issue. There are a lot of moving pieces, sure, but so is every clinical procedure. What I really like about this article is the the steps that they took to really objectively define the things that we were looking at, the goals, a lot of these goals that they wrote, the targets that they're increasing. I could see myself putting in my own behavior plan, so that was really cool to see. We're not going to get to go into the nitty gritty on all of the goals. We will talk about them, but I recommend you taking a read on this article just for that alone. Give you some inspiration, perhaps.

 [00:06:26] So within our methods and participants, there were three autistic individuals, all with a variety of co-morbid diagnoses, ranging from 9 to 16 years of age. There were two types of, quote unquote, adults in this scenario. There was the trainer who was the adult who was only associated with teaching. So they were the ones running through the behavioral skills training and things like that Then, there was the conversation partner. And we can think of those as generally like our generalization probes. Now I say generally because they weren't true generalization probes because there still were intervention components in place. Specifically, the researchers taught some things to all of the non-participants in the in the research study. They taught them how to provide reinforcement for information that they were specifically interested in and told them not to provide reinforcement when they were a topic that they weren't interested in. So they were really trying to mimic kind of a red light, green light situation. On conversation topics. If you're talking about what I want to talk about, reinforcements provided reinforcement in the form of continuing the conversation, responding to mands, etc. If you're talking about things that are outside of my specific interest, that is the trainer or the conversation partner, then reinforcement of continued conversations isn't provided and instead they would exhibit some indices of uninterest is what it was called. And indices of uninterest was things like looking at your phone, yawning, turning away things that perhaps if you and I were to see it within a conversation setting, we would think that probably is something that that probably means that they're not interested in the conversation. But this may be something that or was something that when tested all the participants struggled to identify and indice of uniterest. I will say that their goals and their uninteresting behaviors all seemed fairly naturalistic. So I think there's a lot to be said about setting your goals and you're teaching based on naturalistic settings in the first place, especially when you talk about social skills. So I was really happy to see that as well.

 [00:08:52] So what goals were targeted? Maybe three or four. Generally speaking, there was conversation and partner initiated conversations. So the the participant would go up to the trainer and the trainer would start talking about one topic. And the goal was at least two or more conversation vollies related to that similar topic. Then there was identify and shift topic after an index of uninterest. So this was really interesting. You talk about conditional discriminations only where the participants are required to identify when the person in front of them wasn't interested. They then wanted to see if they could switch the topic when that index of uninterest was present. So for example, you're talking about, I don't know, Star Wars and you get a bunch of uninteresting indices and then you switch the topic to Pokemon, you know, whatever it may be. So identifying and shifting the topic next was the skill to be able to identify when you're going to end the conversation after three separate indices of uninteresting. And finally, that after the fact the participants were taken aside and were kind of given a brief of the conversation, given some feedback and things like that. And they were asked, Did you have any shared interest with the person you were talking to? This, I think, is crucial because I know at least when I was growing up, one of the first things my parents would ask me when I got into the car was, Did you make any friends? And really, how do you know if you had a friend? I would argue that a continual conversation with plenty of shared interests might be a good place to start. So I think there's a lot of social relevance to simply identifying if this person shared interests with you.

 [00:10:45] The intervention was both textual prompts, sometimes using notecards and things like that to prompt when a an index of uninterest was present or another, you know, another discriminative stimuli is present as well as behavioral skills training. And remember, behavioral skills training is the instruction modeling, role play and feedback. I'm not going to really go into the behavioral skills training because. There's tons and tons of research on that already. I thought that the textual prompts were interesting the way it read. I'm willing to hazard a guess that the textual prompts were added kind of within the intervention. They didn't set out to talk about textual prompts, but they ended up needing it. So textual prompts is definitely, I think, relevant to the learning process here as well.

 [00:11:38] So let's talk about the results and discussion. So the first time that the general purpose was to work on those goals and it worked. So there was increases in all skills following interventions. There were multiple instances of conversation, partner initiated conversations of multiple different volleys. There was identifying and shifting topics after on interest, all of those goals that we talked about. There were increases in reaching mastery. What was really interesting is they were really zoning in on those indices of uninterest, which in my opinion is probably the most probably the coolest part of this study, as well as the intraverbal aspect at the end, which is of course talking about identifying shared interests. So that was really cool to see. There was also some generalization built in. There was little there was both structured generalization within kind of the trainer and then the conversation partner. And then there was also some spontaneous generalization thrown in at the end because one of the participants went to kind of like a social skills party and was able to practice her skills there.

 [00:12:55] In terms of limitations. I think there's a couple things to point out whenever you have a social skills study. There's always issues of maybe the data isn't perfectly as clean. There's possible confounding variables that are just a lot of different types of things that can end up that can end up affecting your data. So there is a little bit of wonkiness there. There wasn't as much generalization as I would have liked to see. Really, when it comes to social skills, I really have very little interest regarding success within a controlled setting. I am really interested in the dynamic success and the adaption and the learning skills that this that this intervention leads to within the real world. The other limitation is that it was it was a long intervention, you know, it was a time intensive intervention with lots of teaching and lots of textual prompts. Which makes sense. We're talking about complex verbal skills. Well, it is a limitation. That's not to say that it is an expected rate, because with such a complex as a complex intervention, especially with those conditional discriminations and shifting topics, which is high level stuff. So I think it's, I think it's definitely something to, um, to, to not be pumped about, but to be aware if you're going to imitate this article, which for the record, I'm actually thinking about replicating this article with one of my clients who I think could work great with this. Overall, it worked, right? I think that this is a really good groundwork paper, and I don't say this often about social skills because like I said, a lot of times social skills, paper don't give me that kind of like objective base that I really want to see. But if they they they gave it to me. There's clear objectives, there's nice goals. There's teaching procedures. Like I can I can visualize what it looks like for one of my participants to go through or something like this. And I think that's awesome. That's exactly what you need. So I really appreciate it that it worked in the controlled setting. I would I'm cannot wait for the replications of things like this within less within a less controlled setting. I think it's crucial and I think it's absolutely going to happen. I think it's a really, really good article. I highly recommend reading it.

 [00:15:30] It's fun, you know, to start out coming back to JABA and one take with such a solid article. I don't talk about this much, but you know, I do very little editing on these types of episodes depending on the type of episode. And, you know, sometimes I'll take away some ums and ahhs and some pauses. Sometimes I script out my episodes for a while. But when we're just jamming on an article, I have an outline and I kind of let it flow. So the casualness is there, and with an article like this, the more I talk about it, the more excited because I truly can see some of my clients going through the interventions laid out and that's really exciting to me. Okay, so that was the article that was Hood et al., 2022, the beginning of friendship. Teaching individuals with autism to identify shared interest.

 [00:16:21] Let's move on to the question part of the show. We're going to take a question actually from the ABA Cafe, which is a Facebook group, that if you're not a part of, you definitely should be. It's a place where our little community lives. And remember, if you yourself would like to submit a question for the podcast, go ahead and put it in at It'll also be in the episode notes right underneath the episode. So from the cafe somebody asked a question that was related to looking for a different research, and they asked a question on social stories. What was the evidence behind social stories as a as a behavioral intervention? So we summarized some of the research. We talked about some meta analyzes that had been done that showed a questionable success as social stories, as the the primary intervention tool. And then there were some other great comments that came in that talked about some of the ways that they use social stories. And I really wanted to kind of bring to light some of those some of the different ways that social stories can be used. Because typically people hear social stories. If you're like me, you think not evidence based and kind of baby out with the bathwater. But I think the comments kind of brought forward and reminded me on some of the cool ways that social stories can be used as almost a rapport builder or an ancillary intervention to a primary intervention. So some of the things that you can do with social stories is use it as a teaching tool, not for the client, but as a primer for your caregiver trainings with the caregiver. So if you're asking the caregiver to read a social story about what the intervention looks like or, you know, a specific way of handling certain events that come to play. Then odds are the caregiver is going to be listening and understanding and and having to think about that scenario daily because they're reading it daily. You can then use that as a jumping point in your caregiver training conversations and say, hey, you know, you've been reading this social story about this. What do you think about that? You know, I made the social story. We chatted about it, of course. But I want to know more about what you think about this situation, and let's use that as our talking point for the rest of the session. The other thing that I really like to do with social stories and I don't think it's talked about enough, is including behavioral skills training to the social stories. So think about it. What is behavioral skills training? Well, there's instruction, then modeling, then role play and then feedback. What's a social story? Well, it's essentially the instruction part of behavioral skills training. It's clarifying contingencies. It's providing clear signals for reinforcement and extinction and things like that, whatever intervention may be. It's simply clarifying what's going to be going on in the next. Day, morning, whatever the social stories about. So if we use social stories as kind of the start of our behavioral skills training, we can keep what some people see as a really kind of fun, nice tool, a trauma informed tool to talk about safety signals. We can keep that tool and then still get really strong behavior change interventions by tagging it on to then modeling role play and feedback. I think the important thing with social stories throughout this whole thing is that as the primary intervention source, you're going to have questionable success. It might work. Behavior is complex and but if I was a betting man, I would say it probably wouldn't work. Because really all you're doing is providing instruction and relying on, we hope, will help rule governed behavior to kind of take over. However, we know that contingencies can sometimes be the strongest way to show that the strongest and most direct way that we have to shape behavior. So best to go with social stories as instruction and then adding on modeling roleplaying feedback. Personally, I found a lot of success in that myself.

 [00:20:45] All right, everyone, that was our question. Like I said, if you want to submit a question for the podcast, go ahead and put it in That is the end of our episode. I hope you really enjoyed this conversation. Different places where you can find more of us is on Facebook. At the ABA Cafe Facebook Group. You can join our email list if you go to and sign up on any of the options. And of course, you can join the library plus membership and get access to everything from CEU use to over 300 summarized behavior analytic articles searchable for your leisure. Thank you so much for listening, everyone. Go ahead and leave me a review and subscribe if you haven't and I'll talk to you again soon in the next one.


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