This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

An Investigation of General and Descriptive Praise in Teaching Language to Children with Autism




Polick, Amy S.

Type of Degree





Research has shown that traditional operant behavioral procedures have been effective in enhancing language performance (Lovaas, 1987). In addition, the use of descriptive praise has been widely recommended in the area of language intervention for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) (e.g., Leaf & McEachin, 1999; Maurice, Luce, & Green, 1996). However, few published studies have directly evaluated the use of descriptive praise in teaching language to children with ASDs (i.e., Sellers & Higbee, 2009; Stevens, Sidener, Reeve, & Sidener, 2011). The purpose of the study was to expand upon the Sellers and Higbee and Stevens et al. evaluations to further investigate the effects of descriptive versus general praise on the acquisition of language skills in children diagnosed with ASDs. Results of the study showed that there were minimal, if any, advantages of descriptive praise in acquisition efficiency. In 5 out of 9 comparisons (55%), participants reached mastery faster with descriptive praise; however, the differences were often minor. In 3 out of 9 comparisons (33%), participants met mastery (or failure) in the exact same number of sessions. Only 1 of the 9 comparisons (11%) resulted in faster skill acquisition with general praise, and again, the difference was small. From this investigation it appears that recommendations for using descriptive praise in teaching language to children with ASDs exceed the evidence to support them. Thus, it cannot be confidently concluded that descriptive praise provides a greater benefit than general praise for skill acquisition in children with ASDs, but rather the effectiveness of descriptive praise (and praise, in general) as a teaching strategy seems to be idiosyncratic.