Pat Mirenda


Relevant Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - Nov 2019)
A comparison of different reinforcement contingencies during skill acquisition programs for children with autism spectrum disorder (2018)

Interventions based on the principles of learning are effective for teaching new skills to children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD; e.g., Cohen, Amerine-Dickens, & Smith, 2006; Eldevik, Eikeseth, Jahr, & Smith, 2006; Howard, Sparkman, & Cohen, 2005; Lovaas, 1987; National Autism Center, 2009, 2015). Researchers and clinicians increasingly recognize the importance of evaluating individuals’ preferences for behavioural interventions. The most direct way to assess a participant’s intervention preference may be to expose the participant’s behaviour to the available interventions and provide an opportunity for the participant to choose amongst the interventions (Fisher & Mazur, 1997; Hanley, 2010; Schwartz & Baer, 1991). Though reinforcement is the primary process involved in teaching new skills, no study has evaluated learner preference for reinforcement contingencies during skill acquisition. The purpose of the study was twofold: (1) to evaluate preference for differential reinforcement, nondifferential reinforcement, and extinction during skill acquisition programs for children with ASD, and (2) to evaluate the relative effectiveness and efficiency of the reinforcement contingencies during skill acquisition programs for children with ASD. In the present study, the experimenter used a concurrent-chains arrangement to evaluate participants’ preferences for different reinforcement contingencies when teaching language skills to children with ASD. The experimenter used an adapted alternating treatments design (AATD) embedded within a concurrent multiple-probe design to evaluate the relative effectiveness and efficiency of the reinforcement contingencies. Two males diagnosed with ASD participated in the study. Both participants demonstrated a clear preference for one reinforcement contingency over the others across instruction for at least two skills. In three of the four completed evaluations, differential reinforcement was the most effective and/or efficient reinforcement contingency. Finally, in three of the four evaluations completed across participants, the most effective and efficient intervention was also the most preferred intervention.

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A comparison of response-contingent stimulus pairing and operant discrimination training to establish vocal stimuli as reinforcers (2018)

Conditioned reinforcers are used frequently in behavioural interventions for individuals with developmental disabilities. It is common to use several reinforcers in behavioural interventions to account for changes in preference over time and to reduce the likelihood of satiation (Moher, Gould, Hegg, & Mahoney, 2008). Conditioning procedures are effective for increasing the number of stimuli that function as reinforcers. Conditioning procedures might be particularly important for individuals with limited social reinforcers given social stimuli, such as praise, are delivered frequently as a consequence for appropriate responding. Although a number of studies have evaluated the effects of different conditioning procedures, there are no comprehensive guidelines or recommendations for establishing conditioned reinforcers. Additional research is needed to identify the most effective method(s) of establishing conditioned reinforcers. The purpose of the current study was three-fold: 1) to investigate whether there is a functional relationship between response-contingent stimulus pairing and increasing the reinforcing value of vocal stimuli, 2) to investigate whether there is a functional relationship between operant discrimination training and increasing the reinforcing value of vocal stimuli, and 3) to compare the relative effectiveness of response-contingent stimulus pairing and operant discrimination training to condition vocal stimuli as reinforcers for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Five individuals between the ages of 6- to 12-years old participated in the study. All participants were diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. An adapted alternating treatments design was used to evaluate the effects of response-contingent stimulus pairing and operant discrimination training on neutral vocal stimuli. Overall, the results showed that response frequency and session duration during reinforcer probes for response-contingent stimulus pairing and the SD were higher following exposure to the conditioning procedures for three of five participants. These results indicate that both response-contingent stimulus pairing and operant discrimination training were effective in establishing vocal stimuli as conditioned reinforcers for some of the participants.

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The development of anxiety in children with autism spectrum disorders (2017)

Although up to 40% of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have a comorbid anxiety disorder, little is known about the origins and trajectory of change in anxiety symptoms in ASD. Characteristics specific to ASD such as social impairments and alexithymia may alter the experience of anxiety in this population. Consequently, anxiety may differ in the ASD population and merits focused study. This dissertation consists of two related studies that used data from the longitudinal Pathways in ASD study. The psychometric properties of the Spence Children’s Anxiety Scale – Parent Form (SCAS-P) in 238 children who were seen annually from ages 7.5 to 11 were examined in Study 1. While the original six-factor structure was not a good fit in this sample, four subscales reflecting Generalized, Separation Anxiety, Panic and Agoraphobia symptoms were identified. In Study 2, parent ratings of Generalized, Separation Anxiety, Panic and Agoraphobia symptoms were captured at snapshots in middle childhood, as well as changing over time in 262 children who were seen annually between ages 7.5 to 11. The proportion of children whose parents rated them as experiencing Elevated Generalized Anxiety was comparable to past reports, though rates of Elevated Separation Anxiety symptoms were higher than past reports. Parent-rated Generalized Anxiety, Separation Anxiety, Panic and Agoraphobia symptoms were stable over the middle childhood years, and there was little variance in the trajectories of all except the Separation Anxiety domain. Children with age-typical language abilities were rated as experiencing higher levels of Generalized and Separation Anxiety in middle childhood. Parent-rated anxiety in early childhood significantly predicted higher Generalized and Separation anxiety across middle childhood, while parental internalizing symptoms in early childhood were predictive of Generalized, but not Separation Anxiety symptoms. There were no differences in Generalized or Separation Anxiety levels across ages 7-11 between boys and girls. The results of this research offer a deeper understanding of the psychometric properties of one widely used anxiety rating scale, as well as its predictors, incidence and development over middle childhood. In turn, this understanding can support efforts aimed at preventing and treating anxiety disorders in ASD.

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Fathers of children with autism : the impact of a support group on fathers' stress, depression, coping, and marital satisfaction (2014)

The purpose of this study was to design and evaluate the impact of a support group for fathers of children with autism, using quantitative measures to examine participants’ psychological experiences. Twelve fathers of children with autism participated in the study, which employed a two-group pretest-posttest design and a measure of social validity. The two groups were comprised of six fathers each, who attended eight weekly 2-hour sessions that focused on various topics related to parenting a child with autism. Sample topics included fathers’ experiences with the diagnosis, dealing with the education system, the impact on personal and professional relationships of parenting a child with autism, and future hopes and fears. All participants completed the Beck Depression Inventory-II, the Dyadic Adjustment Scale (DAS), the Parenting Stress Index 4th Edition, the Life Orientation Test-Revised, the Ways of Coping Questionnaire, a demographic form, and a social validity questionnaire regarding participation in the group. Group 1 completed the formal test measures prior to the start of their group, upon completion, and 4 months later. Group 2 completed these measures prior to the start of their own group, and upon completion. Data were analyzed using a 2X2 mixed model analysis of variance with Group as the between-subjects factor and Time as the within-subjects factor. Results indicated no significant main effects for either Group or Time between baseline and post-treatment for any of the measures. However, there was a significant interaction effect for marital adjustment via the DAS, and follow-up independent sample t-tests showed a significant improvement for Group 2 only. For Group 1, paired samples t-tests indicated no change in scores between post-treatment and follow-up on any measure. Responses to the social validity measure indicated that all fathers found the groups to be meaningful and helpful, enjoyed listening to and sharing personal experiences with other men in similar circumstances, and strongly recommended a similar group to other fathers of children with autism. Results are discussed in terms of their contribution to the literature, limitations and cautions, and implications for practitioners and researchers who support and study fathers of children with autism. 

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A comparison of a group ABA (GABA) verbal behaviour model of early intensive behavioral intervention and pivotal response treatment for children with autism (2012)

The autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are characterized by a triad of impairments in social interaction, communication, and behavior. Once considered untreatable, research has identified comprehensive behavioral intervention as the most well established treatment option. To date, the UCLA method of early intensive behavioral intervention has received the most large-scale research attention and empirical support. However, alternative behavioral methods have also emerged, including the Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) and the Verbal Behavior (VB) methods. This study compared the outcomes of 14 children with autism participating in a community-based program based on the VB method to the outcomes for 14 children participating in a community-based program based on the PRT method, over a 12-month period. Assessments were conducted to measure cognitive, receptive and expressive language, and adaptive behavior skills, as well as problem behavior and parenting stress. Independent t-tests confirmed the groups were well matched for both baseline cognitive ability and chronological age. A 2 x 2 mixed model analysis of variance showed statistically significant changes over 12 months in IQ scores, receptive and expressive language age equivalents, and problem behavior scores. Significant findings were not found for either adaptive behavior scores or parenting stress scores. Changes in cognitive and adaptive behavior scores were similar to those reported in published UCLA-based studies of similar intensity. Study limitations and recommendations for future research are provided. Although additional research is needed to examine the long-term effectiveness of the programs examined in this study, it appears that they both hold promise as effective autism early intervention approaches that are relatively cost-effective.

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Staff training for community swimming instructors : supporting children with autism in local recreation settings (2012)

Previous research indicates that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) participate in lower levels of physical activity in general and community-based recreation activities in particular than their typically-developing peers (Lang et al., 2010; King et al., 2003). Swimming is a particularly valuable activity because of its health, safety, and social benefits (Rogers, Hemmeter & Wolery, 2003). To date, no research has examined the effectiveness of a training approach designed to teach swimming instructors in community-based recreation settings to support children with ASD in swim lessons. Using a quasi-experimental time series design, his study examined the impact of training package that consisted of a workshop and in-pool coaching on the instructional skill acquisition of six swim instructors. Effects of the training on child cooperation and skill acquisition were also examined across eight children with ASD. Results indicated gains for the majority of instructors and children immediately following completion of the training. In addition, social validity ratings by parents, instructor, and aquatics coordinators were uniformly high. The results and limitation of the study was discussed with reference to the behavioral literature on instruction and generalization, with implications for future research. This study provides preliminary support for the effectiveness of a simple instructional package for teaching recreation staff to teach swimming to children with autism in community pools.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
A video-based preference assessment of social stimuli (2018)

Research on social stimuli preference assessments has largely used pictorial depictions of social stimuli (Kelly, Roscoe, Hanley, & Schlichenmeyer, 2014; Lang et al., 2014). However, social stimuli are dynamic and the use of videos may better portray the nuances of social stimuli (Snyder, Higbee, & Dayton, 2012). The purpose of the current study was to evaluate a 3-step process to identify reinforcing social stimuli (i.e., a semi-structured interview, a video-based preference assessment, and a reinforcer assessment). Six children aged 2- to 7-years old participated in the study. Two participants had a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, one had a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and three were typically developing. The experimenter conducted a video-based, paired-choice preference assessment in which two videos of different social stimuli played simultaneously. The rate of responding for high- and low-preference social stimuli was assessed during baseline and a progressive and/or fixed ratio schedule of reinforcement. Four participant’s participation was terminated before full data sets could be collected due to engagement in problem behaviour. Two participants were able to complete full data sets; however, both required modifications to the original method to do so. The results of the study will be discussed in terms of clinical implications and considerations for future research.

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An evaluation of stimulus presentation arrangements on children's acquisition of listener behaviour (2016)

Clinicians teach listener behaviour within the context early intervention for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Effective, evidence-based procedures are necessary to establish skills that children with ASD do not readily acquire through interactions with their caregivers and peers. In the present study, the effectiveness and efficiency of three different antecedent stimuli presentations (i.e., sample-first, sample-first-with-repetition, and comparison-first conditions) were compared using an adapted alternating treatments design. Participants were three children with ASD, aged 4- and 6-years old. The most efficient presentation varied across participants, and the results obtained with one efficiency measure did not always yield similar results to that obtained with the other efficiency measures. Implications for teaching listener behaviour in early intervention programming are addressed.

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The effect of a differential observing response and an error correction procedure for teaching conditional discriminations to children with autism spectrum disorders (2016)

A differential observing response (DOR), in which a unique response puts the learner in sensory contact with the sample stimulus (Walpole, Roscoe, & Dube, 2007), is an antecedent strategy used to address faulty stimulus control. Similarly, error correction (EC) procedures are consequence strategies for addressing errors and faulty stimulus control (McGhan & Lerman, 2013). Few studies have compared the combination of an error correction procedure and a DOR; thus, the purpose of this study was to examine this combination for teaching auditory to visual conditional discriminations. The study employed an adapted alternating treatments design with one participant where the primary dependent variable was the number of sessions to reach mastery criterion. A total of three comparative evaluations (i.e., stimulus bundles) were completed in which the auditory-visual stimuli consisted of nonsense consonant-vowel-consonant words assigned to flags. For the first stimulus bundle, more rapid learning was associated with the EC condition. For the second stimulus bundle, neither treatment was associated with more rapid learning, as acquisition in each treatment occurred at the same rate. Finally, for the third stimulus bundle, more rapid learning was associated with the DOR+EC condition. The results indicated that the addition of a DOR to an error correction procedure did not result in more rapid learning of auditory to visual conditional discriminations for the participant. Limitations of the study and directions for future research are discussed.

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Verbal outcomes at school entry of monolingual and bilingual children with ASD who were minimally verbal at the time of diagnosis (2016)

Families of children with ASD raised in bilingual homes are often provided with mixed recommendations from professionals regarding language exposure. Many parents are advised to limit language exposure to the language of instruction, despite the familial, cultural, religious, or community challenges associated with forced monolingualism. Although previous research with verbal children with ASD has consistently shown that bilingual exposure does not have a negative impact on early language development, no study to date has examined this issue in minimally verbal (MV) children. Thus, the purpose of this study was to explore the extent to which home language exposure, in combination with other variables, predicted verbal outcome at the time of school entry (around age 6) in a sample of children with ASD who were MV (i.e., spoke five or fewer words) at the time of diagnosis. Participants were 34 MV children with ASD; of these, 24 monolingual-exposed (ME) children were exposed to only one language and 10 bilingual exposed (BE) children were exposed to a second language ≥ 20% of the time. Results of a logistic regression indicated that home language exposure was not a significant predictor of verbal status at the time of school entry, but nonverbal IQ (NVIQ) scores were. In the current sample, ME children were five times more likely to remain MV at age 6 after controlling for scores relating to NVIQ, imitation, responding to joint attention, and initiating joint attention. The results suggest that, in this sample, bilingual exposure did not negatively impact the verbal outcome of MV children with ASD, although this result cannot be generalized to the population at large. Limitations of the study are addressed, highlighting directions for future research and implications for clinical practice.

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A comparison of iPad-based and traditional instructional materials for teaching academic skills to children with autism spectrum disorder (2015)

In recent years, research has emerged on the application of the iPad for teaching academic, communication, vocational, and leisure skills to children with special needs such as ASD (Kagohara et al., 2013). However, only 10 iPad studies to date have sought to teach basic academic skills (e.g., simple reading, math, or printing skills) to students with special educational needs, and only five of these compared iPad-based instruction to the traditional materials. This study aimed to expand the research on the application of the iPad for teaching academic skills by comparing the impact of the mode of instructional delivery (i.e., iPad vs. traditional materials) on the number of sessions required to meet mastery criterion, task engagement, and frequency of problem behaviour. The study employed an adapted alternating treatments design with two young children with autism spectrum disorder. Two tasks were identified for both participants: addition with pictures and word families, with equivalent task sets designed for each condition. All sessions were conducted in participants’ homes and lasted 20 to 40 minutes. The results for the number of trials to criterion provide evidence of a functional relation in favour of the TM condition for the word families task but not for the addition task. This is contrary to the hypothesis that a functional relation would be evident for both tasks in favour of the iPad condition. Results for engagement were mixed, with lower engagement in the iPad condition for one participant, and no meaningful difference for the other. No problem behaviour was observed during the study. Implications of the study are discussed as they apply to students with autism spectrum disorder in particular, along with suggestions for future research.

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The impact of a visual activity schedule for teaching swimming to children with disabilities (2014)

As a physical activity, swimming has many sociological and safety benefits (Brenner, Saluja, & Smith, 2003; Rogers, Hemmeter, & Wolery, 2010). Past research has investigated different methods for teaching swimming lessons to children with autism and other developmental disabilities (Jull, 2012; Pan, 2010; Pan, 2011; Rogers et al, 2010; Yilmaz, Birkan, Konukman, & Yanardag, 2010). However, no research to date has specifically examined the impact of a visual activity schedule (VAS) during swimming lessons. Moreover, the focus of past research has been mainly on 1:1 instruction, rather than group instruction. The purpose of this study was to determine the effectiveness of a VAS in a group swimming lesson. Three participants with autism and other developmental disabilities participated in 14 30-minute group swimming lessons taught by a qualified instructor. A single-subject reversal (ABAB) design was used to examine the effect of VAS on child cooperation. Skill acquisition was assessed by comparing the videos from the beginning and the end of the study. Social validity was assessed by surveying participants’ parents about the perceived effectiveness of the VAS and their overall satisfaction with the program. The results showed no significant difference in child cooperation among the three participants between baseline and VAS phases, primarily because compliance was high for all three children during baseline. However, skill acquisition was observed across all three participants. In terms of social validity, all parents reported that they were satisfied with the way the study was conducted as well as the progress they saw on their child. The results are explained with reference to instructor training, generalized compliance, and the impact of group intervention.

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Teachers' self-efficacy, sentiments, attitudes, and concerns about inclusion of students with developmental disabilities (2013)

In a sample of 100 primary and intermediate teachers from a Western Canadian province, this study examined relationships between teachers’ self-efficacy and teachers’ sentiments, attitudes, and concerns about inclusive education of students with developmental disabilities. The study used both a web and paper-based survey based on two psychometrically sound scales: the Teacher Efficacy for Inclusive Practices (TEIP) scale, and the Sentiments, Attitudes and Concerns about Inclusive Education Scale – Revised (SACIE-R). Pearson product-moment correlations were calculated to examine associations between three TEIP factors (use of inclusive instruction, collaboration with others, and managing disruptive behaviour) and the three SACIE-R variables. A series of multiple regression analyses were then conducted to determine which TEIP factors, when considered simultaneously, best predicted sentiments, attitudes, and concerns. Results indicated that higher self-efficacy for collaboration was the only predictor associated with more positive sentiments and attitudes, and with fewer concerns, about inclusive education for students with developmental disabilities. The results highlight the importance of both pre-and inservice education aimed at providing educators with dispositions and skills related to effective collaboration with parents and other members of a school-based team.

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Relationships between maternal self-effiacy, parent training instructional practices and models of parent-professional interaction (2012)

Parental self-efficacy impacts the manner in which a parent interacts with his or her child, as well as child development. Parental self-efficacy can be influenced by a variety of parent and child characteristics, in addition to contextual factors such as socioeconomic status. Parents of children with autism are at risk for lower self-efficacy due to a number of additional influences, including stress, autism severity, and how professional supports are provided. The purpose of this study is to investigate the relationship between maternal self-efficacy in mothers of children with autism and parent-professional relationships, the instructional techniques utilized in parent training, parenting stress, socioeconomic status, and parents’ perceptions of child progress. A sample of 43 mothers in British Columbia whose children with autism were receiving services from a behavior consultant completed The Early Intervention Parent Questionnaire (EIPQ) that was developed for this study. The EIPQ measures maternal self-efficacy and the variables believed to influence maternal self-efficacy. A regression analysis found that parenting stress and parents’ perceptions of child progress were related equally to maternal self efficacy. Implications are discussed, with suggestions for future research.

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Comparing early language development in monolingually-exposed and bilingually-exposed young children with autism (2011)

By definition, individuals with autism have marked language delays. Parents of children with autism are often advised not to raise their child with autism in a bilingual environment because of the belief that exposure to two languages will overload the child’s language system and result in further delays. This study compared a group of recently-diagnosed bilingually-exposed children with autism (n=20) ages 24-52 months with a matched group of monolingually-exposed children with autism (n=40). The groups were matched with regard to chronological age at the time of language assessment and nonverbal IQ score. The groups were compared with regard to the severity of children’s autism-related communication impairment, age of first words, age of first phrases, receptive vocabulary scores, receptive language scores, expressive language scores, and functional communication scores. Two sets of univariate ANOVAs were performed. First, univariate ANOVAs (without a covariate) were performed for autism-related communication impairment, age of first words and age of first phrases. Second, a series of univariate ANCOVAs, with the total number of speech-language and applied behavior analysis intervention hours entered as a covariate, was performed on the remaining dependent variables. All analyses determined that there were no statistically significant differences between the two groups on all language measures. The results suggest that a bilingual language environment does not disadvantage young children with autism in the early stages of language development. Limitations of the study and implications are discussed with regard to future research and clinical implications.

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Effectiveness of a rapid toilet training workshop for parents of children with developmental disabilities (2011)

Individuals with developmental disabilities often experience challenges in learning toileting skills, which highlights a need for effective toilet training strategies that can be readily disseminated to caregivers. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects of parent attendance at a rapid toilet training-derived workshop on the toileting behaviours of their children with developmental disabilities. In the workshop, 6 parents were provided with instruction related to teaching urinary continence, which included increased fluid intake, positive reinforcement for correct toileting, scheduled toilet sittings, scheduled chair sittings to teach initiation, redirection for accidents, maintenance and generalization . Following the workshop, parents implemented the toilet training procedure they had learned at home with their children for approximately 5 days with telephone support from a researcher. A multiple baseline design was used to examine the effectiveness of the workshop. Results suggest that the toilet-training workshop resulted in increases in positive toileting behaviours in five of the six children. The results are discussed in relation to previous and future research and implications for practice.

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Formative evaluation of group self-determination/self-advocacy training for adolescents with high functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome. (2010)

Over the past two decades, educators have recognized the importance of teaching students with disabilities to be self-determined, socially and emotionally competent individuals who can advocate for themselves. Unfortunately, the majority of students who require explicit instruction in these areas do not receive it. These three areas of instruction are especially important for students with high functioning autism/Asperger’s syndrome (HFA/AS) because exposure to negative encounters with peers and teachers and lack of guidance during the transition from childhood to adulthood has been linked to many long-term risks. The purpose of this study was to assess the utility of a self-determination/self-advocacy (SD/SA) intervention with six adolescents with HFA/AS, using a pretest multiple-posttest design. The intervention consisted of two components – a training phase and a panel phase. During the training phase, participants were taught self-determination, self-advocacy, and social skills that would prepare them for the panel phase of the intervention. During the panel phase, the group participated in six public panel discussions in which they shared their experiences of what it is like to have HFA/AS. Six dependent variables were measured: 1) self-determination skills; 2) self-concept/self-esteem; 3) friendship development and closeness; 4) participant satisfaction; 5) parent satisfaction; and 6) audience satisfaction. The results offer preliminary evidence of an association between the SD/SA group intervention and positive outcomes in all six areas. The results are discussed with reference to contextual information and previous research. Social validity, collateral benefits, limitations, and future directions are also discussed.

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Promoting socio-communicative development in students with autism who use augmentative and alternative communication (2010)

Supporting social interactions between children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) and their typically developing peers presents many challenges. The purpose of the study was to investigate the effects of a peer-mediated intervention designed to teach two students with ASD to use speech-generating devices (SGDs) to engage in interactions with peers in a social context at school. Six typically developing peers (three from each participant’s inclusive classroom) were taught to support SGD use by their classmates with ASD during game activities. A multiple baseline design was used to examine the relationship between peer-mediated instruction and an increase in total communicative acts by the two participants. Although a functional relationship was not established unequivocally, the results suggest that the intervention was effective at increasing total CAs. These results failed to generalize to non-experimental social settings, but social validity ratings by all of the confederates were positive. Results are discussed regarding educational implications, limitations, and future research.

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