Y.A.L.E. School News

Y.A.L.E. School Researcher Presents Findings at the New Jersey Association for Behavior Analysis Conference

Ever wonder how educators learn how to teach complex skills to students with autism? Renee Horvath, a teacher at The Y.A.L.E. School Audubon campus, is a graduate student at Rowan University studying Applied Behavior Analysis. Her work with teens with autism at Y.A.L.E. prompted her to initiate a research study to look at how best to teach students how to do something most of us do every day: use a debit card.

“Our students spend about half their time in the community and often have to pay for purchases they make,” said Renee. “This requires other skills, like carrying and counting money, and receiving the correct change. A debit card is a nice alternative. It is accepted in most places, is used by typical teens, and eliminates the more complex steps of paying with cash.”

Renee decided to teach three students this skill as part of her graduation requirement for Rowan’s Masters Program in Applied Behavior Analysis.

The study tested the effects of a video model with prompts, along with real life training. Before going into the community each week, the students watched a video of a familiar person completing a purchase with a debit card in a grocery store. The video contained on-screen prompts, such as the words “thank you,” when the customer thanks the cashier, and arrows directing the students’ attention to important details, such as a wallet. Once in the store, Y.A.L.E staff prompted each student to complete the steps, which had been broken down into smaller components through a process called “task analysis.”

Data were taken over a period of four months to record the percentage of times the steps were completed independently. Eventually, students were taken to a larger retail store to see if the skill generalized.

Renee’s study found that for all three of her participants, using a video model with in-vivo training effectively increased the percentage of steps completed independently, and generalized the skill to other community settings. The video was especially useful for teaching the non-social steps of the task, like taking out the debit card and typing the PIN number.

“Unfortunately, we found the strategy was not as effective for teaching the social steps, such as greeting the cashier and thanking him or her after completing the purchase,” said Renee.

Renee presented her findings at the New Jersey Association for Behavior Analysis through a poster session entitled, “The Use of Textual Prompts Within a Video Model to Teach Debit Card Purchasing in the Community.”

“Contributing to the field is an important part of what sets Y.A.L.E. apart,” said John Barnard, M.S., Ed. BCBA, assistant director of the Y.A.L.E. autism programs. “We are proud of our affiliation with Rowan and the opportunity to present this research to our colleagues.”

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