MONITORING MEANINGFUL TASK INVOLVEMENT
The monitoring process involves observing the task involvement of respective groups of center participants, usually no more than 10 participants at a time. Typically in center-based programs participants are organized in specific groups, such as within classrooms or other specific locations within an agency. In other cases, participants are present in one large room. Even in the latter situations though usually there are staff assignments for respective participant groups (e.g., one staff person is responsible for participants sitting at certain tables and another staff person is responsible for participants at other tables). However the groupings are arranged, one group of participants is observed, then another, etc., until all groups have been observed.
The Monitoring Form for Meaningful and Nonmeaningful Task Involvement
Objectively and systematically monitoring meaningful task involvement in a manner that results in quantifiable data is facilitated if a structured form is used to conduct the monitoring. A prototypical monitoring form is represented in the illustration on a subsequent page. This type of form has been used to monitor task involvement in a number of ABA investigations on promoting meaningful task involvement in center-based programs (e.g., Parsons et al., 1987; Reid et al., in press).
The monitoring form has four basic parts: demographic information (top part above the large box on the form), behavior codes (top part within the box), the actual recording area where results of the monitoring are marked (middle part of the box), and the data summarization part at the bottom of the box. The demographic information is completed prior to initiating the monitoring to identify the specific group of participants whose behavior will be observed, the date and time of the monitoring, and the name of the person who is conducting the monitoring. The behavior codes explain the abbreviations used within the recording area (see following sections). The summarization section represents what is completed following the monitoring (see section on Summarizing Meaningful Task Involvement on page 43).
The Monitoring Form Behavior Codes. Each behavior code is an abbreviation for a category of behavior in which an adult with autism can be engaged while in a center-based program. Essentially all participant behavior will coincide with one of the codes. The codes and their accompanying behavior definitions are presented in the following paragraphs.
The code M on the form stands for any participant behavior that meets one or more of the guidelines for meaningful task involvement specified in Chapter 4, Specifying Criteria for Meaningful Versus Nonmeaningful Activities. The code NM stands for nonmeaningful task involvement, defined as participant behavior with an apparent purpose that does not meet any of the meaningful guidelines. The examples of nonmeaningful tasks, due to nonmeaningful activity and/ or materials used, provided in Chapter 4, Specifying Criteria for Meaningful Versus Nonmeaningful Activities, would meet the definition for NM. These two codes together represent what is generally considered on-task behavior as commonly described in school classrooms and work settings. On-task behavior refers to a participant engaging in an assigned or otherwise expected task—and that task can be either meaningful or nonmeaningful.
In contrast, Off represents off-task behavior (again as commonly referred to in schools and work situations) consisting of an individual not engaging in an assigned or expected task. Common examples of off-task behavior include sitting with no other ongoing activity, wandering around a room with no apparent destination, sleeping, and engaging in stereotypic movements (e.g., repeated hand flapping, spinning in a circle, rocking back and forth). If a participant’s behavior does not meet the definitions for on-task (either M or NM) or off-task, then it would meet the definition of one of the four other behavior categories.
The latter four behavior categories and corresponding codes include self-care (SC), aggressive/disruptive (AD), television watching (TV), and other (O). The self-care code includes any self-help behavior in which a participant is engaged such as independently putting on a coat, eating or drinking, or toileting. It also includes a staff person performing the task for an individual, such as putting a coat on a participant, wiping a participant’s nose, or lifting and transferring a participant from a wheelchair to a table chair. If, however, the staff person is teaching the participant how to perform the self-care task (e.g., instructing, prompting, or reinforcing self-care behavior) then the task is scored as meaningful (M).
Aggressive/disruptive behavior refers to a participant doing something that could cause harm to a person or property. Common examples include hitting oneself or another person, kicking someone, throwing a chair, or ingesting inedible objects. This category also includes behavior that is disruptive to the ongoing general activities in the center such as screaming or cursing at someone.
Television watching is self-explanatory. Sometimes a case is made that watching television should be considered to be a meaningful leisure activity, assuming what is being watched is age appropriate for the participant (see previous meaningful guideline for leisure pursuits). Certainly many adults watch television during their leisure time. However, experience has indicated that it is best to be conservative and code this activity separately. The rationale for this is that some center-based programs allow or encourage participants to spend the bulk of their time watching television to the relative exclusion of participation in tasks that meet other meaningful guidelines. By recording television watching as a distinct behavior category, informed decisions can be made as to whether too much time is being spent watching television.
The final category (other) is a type of “catch all” category. This involves any observed behavior that does not meet any of the previous behavior definitions. It is generally observed infrequently and involves such things as an individual experiencing a seizure or falling down while walking.
Using the Monitoring Form. The Monitoring Form for Meaningful and Nonmeaningful Task Involvement is used in the following manner. First, upon entering a center-based program area, the monitor (e.g., a behavior analyst, other practitioner, staff supervisor) determines what group of participants will be observed. This coincides with the usual groupings within center-based programs as described previously and includes all participants in one classroom, e.g., or other designated physical area. Second, the monitor completes the top portion of the form to provide the demographic information.
The third step for using the monitoring form consists of identifying each participant in the group on the left side of the form next to each number in sequence (see example of the completed form on subsequent page). If the monitor knows each participant, then his/her name can be written on the form. If the monitor does not know the names of all participants in the group, then any identifying descriptive information can be recorded, which usually involves a brief description of the individual’s clothing. As many as 10 participants can be listed on the form.
Once the initial information is provided on the form as just described, the next step is to begin the actual observations. Each participant is observed individually as listed down the left-hand side of the form. The first participant is observed and a recording is made by marking a slash (“/”) through the appropriate behavior code that indicates what the individual is doing when first observed. The recording is made in the column to the immediate right of the participant (only one category can be scored). Ten seconds are allowed for recording the participant’s behavior when first observed. Ten seconds are provided because sometimes it takes a few seconds to identify what the individual is doing. It also often requires the monitor to move about the area to be able to adequately observe a respective participant’s behavior.
After the recording is made for the first participant listed on the form, the same observation process occurs for the second participant listed, again with 10 seconds allowed to make the recording. This process continues at 10-second intervals until all participants listed on the form have been observed and their behavior has been coded on the form. Standard use of the monitoring form typically requires that at least 10 recordings be made to obtain a representative sample. If there are less than 10 participants in a designated group, then the observation continues by monitoring previously observed individuals and marking their behavior in the second column on the form next to each participant’s name. This can be repeated if necessary to obtain at least 10 recordings by using the third column on the form.