Operant Procedures in the Auditory Assessment of "Difficult-To-Test" Individuals
Woolcock, James E.
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The Problem. Standard audiometric assessment procedures are not effective in testing some mentally retarded individuals for sensory capabilities. The present study investigated the use of operant conditioning procedures to determine hearing threshold levels with profoundly retarded individuals. Procedure. Three profoundly retarded individuals were trained to respond on an FR 2 or 3 schedule of reinforcement to puretone presentations of several frequencies (500,1000, 2000, and 4000 Hz). Then, hearing thresholds were determined for each subject using two types of threshold tests, the descending-series method and a trials-wise tracking procedure, the staircase method. The order of threshold test administration was counterbalanced across subjects. Findings. Reliable hearing threshold levels were obtained within subjects and within the type of threshold test employed. All subjects were observed to "track" their own threshold levels with the staircase procedure, and the obtained threshold levels were similar to or lower than those produoed with the descending-series method. Conclusions. The systematic employment of operant conditioning procedures enabled the production of hearing thresholds with "difficult-to-test", profoundly retarded individuals. A trials-wise tracking procedure, or staircase method, proved to be very functional in the determination of sensory capabilities with such individuals. Recommendations. In order to assess the auditory capabilities of "difficult-to-test" individuals, the clinical investiqator should (1) employ operant conditioning training procedures to ensure increased control of the subject's behavior in the clinical situation, and (2) use testing procedures which allow for the attainment of both reliable and valid sensory profiles.