Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Alan D. Poling

Second Advisor

Dr. Ronald VanHouten

Third Advisor

Dr. Cynthia Pietras

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Steven Ragotzy


Physical activity, applied behavior analysis, autism soectrum disorders. Fitbit. oedometer. soal settins


Experts recommend that individuals walk 10,000 steps or more per day and doing so has been shown to have several health benefits. Unfortunately, many people fall short of 10,000 steps per day. Exercise levels are characteristically lower in people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) than in people without ASD. The present study comprised two experiments that used goal setting and reinforcement to increase physical activity in young adults with ASD. The first study employed a multiple-baseline-across-participants design in combination with a reversal design to determine the effects of a treatment package on the number of daily steps taken by young adults with ASD while at school. Participants were given pedometers to wear. Once participant’s number of steps stabilized in baseline, they set individual goals and received reinforcers for successfully meeting those goals. By the end of each treatment condition all participants were successfully meeting their goals and walking at least 10,000 steps per day. The classroom teacher reported the treatment package was easy to implement and effective. These findings suggest that goal setting and reinforcement can substantially increase the number of steps by people with ASD.

Experiment 2 used a multiple-baseline-across-participants design to determine the effects of goal setting and reinforcement on the number of daily steps taken by young adults with ASD at home and during the weekends over a six-month period. The number of steps taken by each participant increased during the goal setting and reinforcement phase and participants consistently met their daily goal outside of school. Participants’ weight and body mass indices decreased during the study. A modified concurrent chains procedure was used to assess whether participants liked wearing the Fitbit. When participants were given a choice between immediate access to a preferred item and the opportunity to wear the pedometer, participants consistently chose to wear the pedometer. The finding of the two studies suggest that goal setting and reinforcement are useful in increasing exercise in people with ASD.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access