2018: Ciobha McKeown

University of Nebraska Medical Center's Munroe-Meyer Institute 

Ciobha McKeown is a doctoral student at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Munroe-Meyer Institute under the supervision of Dr. Kevin Luczynski. The Bijou grant will support her dissertation on systematically replicating the friendship unit of the preschool life skills program (Hanley, Heal, Tiger, & Ingvarsson, 2007) with children diagnosed with autism or related disabilities. The friendship unit is the foundation on which complex prosocial behaviors are established, and it serves as a starting point for facilitating socially desirable interactions between people at a young age. Given the inconsistent results in previous research with neurotypical children, the first objective is to extend features of the prosocial skills and evaluate the procedures necessary to teach all the skills in a one-on-one format. Beyond acquisition, promoting maintenance in natural contexts (e.g., school) represents a formidable challenge because these types of skills may rarely produce an immediate benefit (e.g., saying, “Thank you” to a peer after receiving a toy) or an immediate worsening (e.g., giving away a toy to a peer or stopping play to comfort a peer in distress). For this reason, the secondary objective is to promote the generality of the skills via persistence teaching, which entails the systematic introduction of unpredictable reactions following the skills that emulate how peers may respond. That is, the teaching is geared toward preparing children to perform effectively in the face of consequences that likely do not serve as reinforcers (e.g., refusing an invitation to play). Finally, the project will assess caregivers’ satisfaction with their children’s prosocial improvements and, most notably, whether the children’s likability increases as indicated by their same-age peers. Regarding the latter, same-age peers will choose a more preferred play partner after watching videos of children with and without the targeted friendship skills. The outcomes will have direct implications for teaching prosocial behaviors to children with and without disabilities.


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