Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Psychology and Special Education

First Advisor

L. Juane Heflin Ph. D. - Chair

Second Advisor

Paul Alberto Ph. D

Third Advisor

Colleen O'Rourke Ph. D.

Fourth Advisor

Lauren Adamson Ph. D.


ABSTRACT THE EFFECTS OF PRIMING ON SPONTANEOUS VERBAL LANGUAGE IN CHILDREN WITH AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS by Michelle L. Ivey A multi-element design was used to investigate the effect of priming on spontaneous verbal communication in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Three children with ASD engaged in 20-minute thematic activity sessions (ACT) with the investigator. Prior to the ACTs, they met with another trained researcher for 10-minute presessions. Half of the presessions incorporated the conventions of priming with materials to be used in the upcoming ACT (i.e., related presessions; RP). During the other half of the presessions, participants were not primed for the upcoming ACT (i.e., unrelated presesessions; UP). The researcher conducted presessions so the investigator was blind to the condition. Procedural fidelity checks of the presessions, based on a checklist of the critical components of priming, revealed 100% adherence to procedures. Participants’ utterances during ACT were recorded, transcribed, and coded based on functionality. The dependent variables were spontaneous comments, requests, topic initiations, social information seeking, and total. Once the criterion of a 30% increase from the mean of the first 3 UP was achieved for three consecutive sessions, priming was withdrawn and then reinstated to demonstrate a functional relation. Additionally, Cohen's d was calculated to determine effect size for the intervention. Reliability was assessed for transcription and coding. There were fewer than 10 word disagreements on any transcript, which did not affect coding. A line by line comparison of the coding across the dependent variables yielded an average reliability of 85%. Visual inspection of the data and statistical analysis revealed that two of the three participants reached criterion for spontaneous comments (Cohen's d = .32 and .95), one reached criterion for total utterances (Cohen's d = 2.99), the other achieved the goal during the reinstatement following the withdrawal (Cohen’s d = 1.00). None increased requesting. Topic initiation and social information seeking did not occur with sufficient frequency for meaningful analyses. Similar to most interventions with individuals with ASD, priming was effective for increasing spontaneous verbal comments for some but not all of the participants. Priming was highly effective for two of the participants. This ground-breaking study creates momentum for further investigation and examination of the variables that affect benefit.