Date of Award

Spring 5-8-2021

Thesis Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Applied Behavior Analysis and Clinical Science

Committee Member(s)

Stephanie Kincaid

Kara Wunderlich

Sabrina Veilleux


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2017) recognizes the staggering rates of obesity affecting children and adolescents in the United States. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have a higher risk of obesity than neurotypical children (Kahathuduwa et al., 2019). The CDC (2017) acknowledges the lack of physical activity as a major factor leading to obesity. This investigation aims to determine the effectiveness of a reinforcer in increasing the levels of physical activity in children diagnosed with ASD. A subsequent aim is to address a measurement limitation identified in Knerr (2020) by using both an observation recording system as well as pedometer data. For two participants, physical activity was measured in five conditions: interactive play, attention, escape, ignore, and control. A multi-element functional analysis (FA) embedded within a reversal design was used to increase levels of physical activity during typical playground time. For one of the participants, an interactive play function was found, and a successful treatment was implemented and generalized to the participant’s therapist. For the second participant, an automatic function was strongly indicated and further confirmed by a set of ignore conditions. This study also attempted to address the measurement limitations of Knerr (2020) by identifying incongruencies between the utilized methods of measurement.


Portions of this research project were conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-2021. Appropriate precautions were implemented to protect the health of both researchers and participants. Consequently, the thesis requirements and expectations for Rollins College students were modified during this academic year to ensure quality research experience while also maintaining safety.