J Dev Phys Disabil (2007) 19:103–114
Contingency Contracting with Students with Autism
Spectrum Disorders in a Public School Setting
Daniel W. Mruzek · Celina Cohen · Tristram Smith
Published online: 27 February 2007
C ?Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007
Abstract In this study, a contingency contract procedure was implemented to promote
adherence to rules of conduct in an elementary school setting by 2 male participants, one
10-year-old with a diagnosis of Autistic Disorder and one 9-year-old with ADHD and
probable Asperger’s Disorder. Prior to intervention, both participants engaged in frequent
during the study as participants progressed; in the final stages, a self-monitoring requirement
was included. A changing criterion design was used to evaluate the effects of contracts on
participants’ adherence to rules of conduct. Results suggest that contracts were effective for
both participants. Thus, contingency contract procedures may be useful for some individuals
with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Keywords Autism.Asperger’s disorder.Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is an increasingly popular term that refers to a group of
pervasive developmental disorders, including Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, and
Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). These disorders
are collectively called ASD because they share core characteristics including impairments
in social interaction, impairments in communication, as well as restricted and repetitive
patterns of behavior, interests, and activities (American Psychiatric Association [APA],
2000). Many students with ASD are described as having an inflexible, rigid, or concrete
style of thinking as well as poor problem solving, self-monitoring, and organizational skills.
Additional characteristics that may affect school performance include difficulty discerning
relevant from irrelevant information, inattention, impulsivity, poor motivation, and problems
with processing auditory information (Smith Myles & Simpson, 1998). While behavioral
D. W. Mruzek (?) · C. Cohen · T. Smith
Department of Pediatrics, University of Rochester Medical Center, 601 Elmwood Ave., Box 671,
Rochester, NY 14642, USA
e-mail: Daniel Mruzek@URMC.Rochester.edu
104J Dev Phys Disabil (2007) 19:103–114
problems such as tantrums, noncompliance, and aggression are not diagnostic of ASD, they
are an associated feature observed in many individuals with this classification (APA, 2000).
Given the core deficits and associated characteristics of ASD, self-management has been
identified as a critical skill that may enable individuals with ASD to improve their func-
tioning in a variety of areas (Koegel, Koegel, Harrower, & Carter, 1999). Self-management
techniques have been successfully used to help individuals with ASD increase social in-
teractions and behaviors (Shearer, Kohler, Buchan, & McCullough, 1996; Strain, Kohler,
Storey, & Danko, 1994), perform self-help skills without supervision (Pierce & Schreibman,
1994), and staying on task and decreasing problematic behaviors in school settings (Koegel,
Harrower, & Koegel, 1999).
Contingency contracting is another potentially useful procedure for increasing self-
management, but has received little attention in the ASD literature. A contingency con-
tract, also referred to as a “behavior contract”, is “a document that specifies a contingent
relationship between the completion of a specified behavior and access to, or delivery of,
a specified reward” (Heward, 1987, p. 466). The theory and practical applications of con-
tingency contracting were initially described in the 1970s, and, subsequently, contingency
contracts were used to address a variety of clinical and educational problems in a variety of
settings with different populations. In schools, contingency contracts have been used with
general education and special education classrooms. This technique has been shown useful
in decreasing tardiness, reducing disruptive behaviors (DeMartini-Scully, Bray, & Kehle,
2000), improving academic performance (Newstrom, McLaughlin, & Sweeney, 1999), re-
ducing truancy (Trice, 1990), and improving personal hygiene (Allen & Kramer, 1990). In
addition to inappropriate behaviors, contingency contracts have also been utilized to address
isolation and withdrawal, as well as to support students during transitions to less restrictive
environments (Jolivette & Wehby, 1999).
Contingency contracting relies on the establishment of rules stated in clear, concise lan-
of many students with ASD. While not particularly visible or intrusive, the written document
also serves as a visual cue for students who may have difficulty relying solely on audi-
tory input. Contingency contracts permit concrete documentation that can be reviewed and
discussed. When implemented thoughtfully, contingency contracts promote collaboration
between student and teachers and encourage student participation at all stages including
contract development, implementation, and evaluation (Heward, 1987). Furthermore, these
techniques may place fewer demands on school staff than other behavioral interventions
because the contracts gradually shift from adult-driven to student-controlled (Heward, 1987;
Homme et al., 1970). For these reasons, the current study was designed to provide an initial
test of contingency contracting procedures by applying them to two students with behavioral
concerns, one with autism and one with probable Asperger’s Disorder, in a school setting.
There were 2 participants in this study. Marty was a 10 year-old male with a classification
by his school district as “emotionally disabled.” He had clinical diagnoses of Attention-
Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and probable Asperger’s Disorder, due to social
skills deficits (e.g., difficulty making friends, responding to common social cues and coping
with busy social settings), ritualistic behavior, frustration related to changes in schedule,
J Dev Phys Disabil (2007) 19:103–114 113
Appendix: Marty’s contingency contract
Today, I agree to follow these rules:
1. I will use polite and respectful language with my teachers and classmates.
2. I will touch others without hurting them.
3. I will touch objects and furniture without breaking or damaging them.
4. When my teachers tell me that it is time to start work, I will quickly get organized and get started.
I will follow all of these rules, even when I am angry.
When I feel angry, I know that I can:
-Request a break;
-Calmly talk to my teacher about my problem
-Practice my relaxation
I will get stars for each hour of the day that I follow the rules.
If I earn _________ stars in the morning, I will earn __________________________________ before
If I earn _________ stars in the afternoon, I will earn __________________________________ at the end
of the school day.
IMPORTANT: If I hit or kick another person, or if I throw something, I will not get stars for that part of
Marty Member of Teaching Staff
STARS EARNED IN THE MORNING AND AFTERNOON
This morning, I need to earn _______ stars. This Afternoon, I need to earn _______ stars.
(Three Xs and I will not get a star!)
(Three and I will not get a star!)
8:30-9:30- ___ ___ ___ ______ 11:30-12:30- ___ ___ ___ ______
9:30-10:30- ___ ___ ___
10:30-11:30- ___ ___ ___
______ 12:30-1:30- ___ ___ ___ ______
______ 1:30-2:30- ___ ___ ___ ______
Please include any comments about Marty,s progress at the bottom or back of this page.
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