The Psychological Record

, Volume 68, Issue 2, pp 219–229 | Cite as

Acquisition of Complex Conditional Discriminations in a Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Colleen B. Yorlets
  • R. W. Maguire
  • Christina M. King
  • Megan Breault
Original Article


Individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder have been reported to demonstrate stimulus overselectivity or restricted stimulus control (i.e., failure to respond to all critical elements of complex stimuli). This potential may have a detrimental impact on the acquisition of academic skills for these individuals if the stimuli in question contain multiple controlling elements. The current study presents a number of methodologies by which attention to, and the subsequent control by, multiple elements of a complex stimulus was demonstrated. The participant in this study was a 10-year-old girl diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. She was taught to select both printed word and picture comparisons, in the presence of complex sample stimuli comprised of visual and auditory elements, via an errorless learning protocol. Specifically, sample stimuli included manual American Sign Language (ASL) signs and the name of the sign. Following training, tests conducted in the absence of programed feedback verified accurate control by each sample element, as well as emergent stimulus-stimulus relations. No evidence of stimulus overselectivity was demonstrated during posttests. This study demonstrated an efficient methodology for forming stimulus classes through complex conditional discrimination training.


Complex stimuli Stimulus overselectivity Conditional discriminations Autism Errorless learning 



Special thanks to Gretchen A. Dittrich for her insightful comments on this manuscript. Thank you also to Lillie Joyce and Abby Kupris for their assistance during the course of the study. These data were presented at the Association for Behavior Analysis International conference, 2016. The manuscript was completed by the first author in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the doctoral degree at Simmons College.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Association for Behavior Analysis International 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Colleen B. Yorlets
    • 1
    • 2
  • R. W. Maguire
    • 2
  • Christina M. King
    • 2
    • 3
  • Megan Breault
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.RCS Behavioral & Educational ConsultingNatickUSA
  2. 2.Department of Behavior AnalysisSimmons CollegeBostonUSA
  3. 3.RCS Learning CenterNatickUSA

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