2018: Madeleine Keevy

University of Nebraska Medical Center's Munroe-Meyer Institute

Madeleine Keevy, MS, BCBA, is principal investigator of the dissertation study “Mitigating Relapse of Destructive Behavior in Children Diagnosed With ASD." She received her master’s degree from Florida Institute of Technology and is a student in the doctoral program in applied behavior analysis at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Munroe-Meyer Institute, under Dr. Wayne Fisher’s advisement. Her work is in translational research, relapse, and the assessment and treatment of severe behavior disorders.


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects 1 in 59 children, and these children are at very high risk for developing destructive behaviors such as aggression, property destruction, and self-injurious behavior. These behaviors are detrimental to social integration, health, and safety, and may lead to institutionalization. Function-based treatments such as functional communication training can reduce or eliminate destructive behavior, but this behavior often returns due to a process known as resurgence. There is a pressing need to reduce resurgence so that children with ASD maintain treatment gains over time. Resurgence as choice (RaC) predicts how manipulating certain parameters of reinforcement will impact resurgence. RaC is a novel quantitative theory that explains why destructive behavior recurs, but there is little research demonstrating its applicability to resurgence of destructive behavior in children with ASD.


This translational study with children diagnosed with ASD investigates the effects of manipulating preference for the alternative reinforcer (by providing either high- or low-preference items contingent on appropriate behavior) on resurgence of target behavior under conditions of extinction. The study will use arbitrary responses and highly controlled conditions to isolate the effects of preference on resurgence, using a two-component multielement design. The findings of the study have the potential to improve reinforcement practices in clinical settings, and to lay the foundation for further applied investigations on the effects of reinforcer preference on resurgence. This investigation will also help to validate RaC and thereby equip applied behavior analysts with new tools to combat treatment relapse.


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