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Generalization of negatively reinforced mands in children with autism


  • Mark P. Groskreutz is now at Evergreen Center. Sarah Bloom is now at the Department of Child and Family Studies, University of South Florida.
  • We thank Jacob Gammill, Robert Grant, Justine Henry, Angela Irwin, Kathryn Roberts, Cheyenne Sachse, and Leisel Snyder for their contributions as research assistants. We also thank Logan City School District and the New England Center for Children, especially William Ahearn, for their assistance with and support of this research.


Each day, people encounter stimuli they find unpleasant. Some children with autism may require systematic instruction to acquire the communication skills necessary to request the termination of such aversive stimuli. We taught 2 school-aged boys with autism a mand (e.g., signing “stop”) that could be used to escape a variety of aversive stimuli. First, we employed a systematic assessment to identify aversive stimuli to use during training. We then conducted mand training sequentially across those stimuli until sufficient exemplars were trained for generalization to occur to untrained stimuli. For both participants, cross-stimulus generalization was observed after training with 2 stimuli. Participants manded for escape in the presence of aversive stimuli, but almost never manded in the presence of preferred stimuli or when the programmed stimuli were absent. In addition, we found an inverse relation between acquisition of the mand and engagement in problem behavior and evidence of generalization to nontraining contexts.