Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects the lives of 1 in 54 children in the United States. By definition, these children often have social communication deficits as well as restrictive and repetitive behaviors that are socially isolating. Inclusion of participants with disabilities such as ASD in classroom or group settings with peers is a high-priority goal for building skills that lead to independent living and higher quality of life for all. Balancing an individual’s class or group participation is not always easy with different levels of social skills, however. In a classroom, this can translate to difficulty in knowing how to participate in a way that is equal to that of their peers—oftentimes children with ASD do not realize that others also need a turn to speak or that other children are not as interested in their restricted ¬interests as they are. We used differential reinforcement and self-monitoring within an existing token system to reduce excess participation in group settings for some individuals, with the goal of better balancing opportunities for all group members to participate. Called "Stack the Deck," this simple intervention allowed for more uninterrupted instruction time with fewer talk outs and meltdowns from adolescents with ASD. Our intervention occurred in a clinical setting, a once-weekly social skills group utilizing the PEERS Social Skills manualized intervention for adolescents with ASD. Groups ran for 12–14 weeks in duration and taught skills such as how to make friends, how to enter and exit conversations, as well as how to host "get-togethers." Our sample size was 33, with 26 males and 7 females. These participants met criteria for autism spectrum disorder and/or had significant social impairment, and had age-appropriate verbal and cognitive abilities by parent report (later measured within the study). Across our A-B intervention, we saw changes over time when it came to participation rates for over-responders (participants who attempted to respond far above the group average during baseline) and under-responders (participants who attempted to respond at rates far below the group average during baseline), with no changes (the desired result) for individuals who were already participating at an appropriate rate. Over-responders showed the most significant changes. A secondary finding of reduced talk-outs overall within the groups was also found. These results suggest that a fairly simple group behavioral intervention was able to produce a group environment more conducive to direct instruction that has direct application to inclusive classrooms as well as clinical environments. Further research can determine if the effects within individuals seen in one setting carry over to others.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Counseling Psychology and Special Education



Date Submitted


Document Type





Autism spectrum disorder, self-monitoring, differential reinforcement, secondary reinforcement, social skills training