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Abstract: This study compared the effects of using verbal directives or choice questions within instructional routines on the challenging behaviors of students with developmental disabilities. Two children with severe cognitive impairments who were typically uncooperative and aggressive during instructional routines participated in the study. Using ABAB designs, results indicated overall decreases in challenging behavior for both students during the choice condition as compared with the traditional verbal directive (no choice) condition. Further, the use of choice questions resulted in more steps being completed prior to the onset of challenging behavior during daily instructional routines for these students. For the one student who seldom independently initiated steps of the routine, the introduction of the choice condition coincided with an increase in independent initiations, although high levels continued for the remainder of the study. These results are discussed in light of the continuing search for simple, nonintrusive, and effective curricular interventions for children who engage in serious problem behavior.
Research suggests that opportunities for choice making may have a number of beneficial effects on children's behavior. Behavior improvements that have been associated with increased opportunities for choice include increased task engagement (Dunlap et al., 1994; Kennedy & Haring, 1993), increased spontaneous speech (Dyer, 1987), and decreased problem behaviors (Dyer, Dunlap, & Winterling, 1990). Several empirical studies (Carr & Carlson, 1993; Dunlap, Kern-Dunlap, Clarke, & Robbins, 1991; Lindauer, Deleon, & Fisher, 1999) have also included choice making as a major component in successful behavior support plans.
In one of the earliest investigations to isolate the effects of choice on problem behavior, Dyer et al. (1990) assessed the impact of choice making on the serious problem behaviors of three students with severe autism and/or mental retardation. Participants ranged in age from 5 to 11 years, and all three exhibited high levels of serious disruptive behavior such as aggression, self-injury, and tantrums. Each session was conducted with one-to-one teacher-student ratios in rooms located on the campuses of a residential center or university. Results showed greater reductions in problem behaviors when students were given the opportunity to choose among instructional tasks and reinforcers than when they were assigned the same tasks and reinforcers arbitrarily by their classroom teachers.
In addition to the positive effects on problem behavior, choice making has also been shown to improve student performance when used as a curricular intervention. Choice typically has been incorporated into teaching contexts by providing students with a choice of academic task or reward (e.g., Cosden, Gannon, & Haring, 1995; Dunlap et al., 1994). For example, Dunlap and colleagues (1994) found that choice of academic task was associated with an increase in task engagement and a decrease in problem behavior for three students with emotional/behavioral problems in a school setting. In the first experiment, task engagement was higher when two 11-year-old fifth-grade boys enrolled in a self-contained class were provided a choice among several academic tasks than when one of the same tasks was assigned by the teacher. In a second experiment with one 5-year-old boy enrolled in a self-contained class, the choice condition involved providing several options for books to be read to him by a behavioral consultant. The no-choice condition presented the same books in a sequence yoked to those chosen by him in the previous condition. Although the books were the same in both choice and no-choice conditions, marked increases in task engagement and decreases in disruptive behavior were noted during the choice as compared with the no-choice condition. This provided further support for the notion that the act of choosing was more beneficial for this student than merely assigning him what were presumed to be preferred books.
In another example, Cosden et al. (1995) investigated the effects on academic performance of having students with disabilities select academic tasks and rewards. Results indicated that student selection of task materials or rewards increased academic task completion and accuracy as compared with conditions where the teacher made these selections.
More recently, Moes (1999) evaluated the effects of providing choice opportunities to children with autism on their performance during teacher-assigned homework activities. In this case, children were offered choices regarding the order of task completion and use of stimulus materials. An ABAB design was used to evaluate the effects of no-choice and choice conditions on the academic performance and disruptive behavior of four children with autism, ages 5 to 9 years. In the no-choice condition, a tutor determined the order of the homework activities, the sequence of items or problems within the homework activities, and the stimulus items (e.g., pens, glue, scissors) used for homework completion. In the choice condition, the child was allowed to choose each of these (e.g., "Which homework activity do you want to work on next, spelling or math?" "Which math problem do you want to do first or next?" "What color marker do you want to work with now, blue or red?"). Results showed that providing students with opportunities to make these choices improved participants' academic accuracy, productivity, affect, and disruptive behaviors.
These investigations provide empirical support for the use of choice as a teaching strategy to improve the problem behavior and academic performance of children with special needs (Cosden et al., 1995; Dunlap et al., 1994; Dyer et al., 1990; Moes, 1999). Simply providing children a choice of task, reward, or materials has been shown to produce beneficial effects. However, given the promise of this simple strategy, perhaps multiple choice opportunities should be provided, both within and across daily activities and routines (Bambara, Koger, Katzer, & Davenport, 1995; Brown, Belz, Corsik, & Wenig, 1993; Guess, Benson, & Siegel-Causey, 1985; Moes, 1999). More research is needed to expand the use of different types of choice opportunities with children. This may be especially important for children with more severe developmental and behavioral disabilities, for whom choice-making opportunities have been noticeably absent (Berkman & Meyer, 1988; Houghton, Bronicki, & Guess, 1987; Kishi, Teelucksingh, Zollers, & Meyer, 1988). To optimize the impact of choice on the behavior of these students, choice opportunities must be expanded beyond a simple choice of task or reward to include multiple choice opportunities within daily routines. The present study extends previous research by embedding choice …