Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Richard W. Malott

Second Advisor

Dr. Stephanie Peterson

Third Advisor

Dr. Steven Ragotzy

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Carmen Jonaitis


Applied behavior analysis, autism spectrum disorder, eye contact, responding to name, early intervention


Eye contact and responding to name may be described as behavioral cusps because acquiring these skills extends contact with the environment, can allow behavior to come under the control of new contingencies, and may facilitate the acquisition of new behavior (Bloom & Lahey, 1978; Carbone, O’Brien, Sweeney-Kerwin, & Albert, 2013; Cook et al., 2017; Hanley, Heal, Tiger, & Ingvarsson, 2007; Rosales-Ruiz & Baer, 1997; Tiegerman & Primavera, 1984; Weiss & Zane, 2010). Eye contact and responding to name are commonly cited as targets for early intensive behavioral intervention; however, the existing literature is limited in its ability to guide a practitioner’s selection of effective methods to teach these skills. This dissertation seeks to remedy this lack.

In the first study of this dissertation, we used a shaping procedure to teach three preschool-age children diagnosed with ASD to make eye contact with the instructor for a duration of 3 s. Then, we taught them to make eye contact during breaks in instruction. Following the initial intervention, we decreased the frequency of reinforcement while training for generalization across instructors and locations. All three children acquired quick and sustained eye contact, which maintained after one month and transferred across a variety of instructors and locations, without the need for prompting.

In a second study, we taught four children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder to respond to their names, but not to other names, by making eye contact. First, we paired their names with reinforcers while they made eye contact, which resulted in their responding to their names in 60-80% of trials. Next, we differentially reinforced responding to their names and extinguished responding to other names. By this point, two of the four children were not only discriminating between their name and others, but also responding to their names more than 80% of the time. Finally, we taught the children to respond to their names reliably while engaging in various activities. All four children reliably discriminated between their names and other names, and this transferred across a variety of instructors and locations and maintained when assessed one month after the intervention. The results suggest that these procedures can be used to teach children diagnosed with ASD to make eye contact and respond to their names in a less restrictive manner than other methods, while eliminating the need for prompt fading, which may make it more efficient and more desirable than existing strategies in the literature.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access