Speak Up: Increasing Conversational Volume in a Child
with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Published online: 11 January 2017
Association for Behavior Analysis International 2017
Abstract Deficits in social interactions are a hallmark of au-
tism spectrum disorder. This study examined one relatively
uncommon aspect of social interactions that has not received
much attention from the literature: appropriate conversational
volume. Conversational speech volume was measured using a
commercially available application, and a package interven-
tion was developed that consisted of feedback from the voice
measuring application, signaling from a wrist bracelet, and
differential reinforcement. The intervention was evaluated in
an ABAB design and speaking at conversational volume was
significantly increased when the intervention was in place and
in probe conditions.
Keywords Autism spectrum disorder
Vo i c e v o l um e
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by difficul-
ties with social interaction, including difficulties in adjusting
one’s own behavior to suit the social context (American
Psychiatric Association, 2013). Speaking either too loudly or
too quietly is an example of failing to adjust one’sbehaviorto
social context, and it can likely represent difficulties to
successful social communication. Relatively few previous
studies have evaluated this social skills deficit. Koegel and
Frea (1993) addressed speaking below conversational volume
in a participant diagnosed with ASD. Several participants
were first taught to differentiate appropriate and inappropriate
social skills (e.g., facial expression, eye gaze, perseveration of
topic). During teaching, the researcher modeled social skills
followed by the participant imitating the skills and identifying
appropriate and inappropriate elements. Once participants
could discriminate correct from incorrect social skills, a self-
monitoring procedure was implemented that required the par-
ticipants to record appropriate behavior when a timer sounded.
Instances of appropriate behavior and self-monitoring were
reinforced with the delivery of quarters which the participants
used to play video games. Different social skills were targeted
between participants and the results indicated that both
targeted and untargeted social skills (including voice volume
in one participant) improved as a result of the intervention.
This study is one of the very few that have addressed conver-
sational volume as a social skill.
An alternative or complementary approach to training dis-
crimination of conversational volume may be to shape speech
volume. However, voice volume might be difficult to shape
without a mechanism to objectively identify when reinforce-
ment should be delivered. Software applications (i.e., Bapps^)
are now ubiquitously available for a variety of uses in working
with individuals with developmental disabilities (e.g., com-
munication, recreation, telephone skills, to name a few).
Little objective data on such applications have been published
and therefore the rapid pace of development and commercial-
ization of apps is far outstripping research. Some published
studies have focused on speech-generating devices (Lorah,
Parnell, Whitby, & Hantula, 2015) but few other apps have
been empirically evaluated. The primary purpose of this study
was to evaluate the use of a voice volume application used to
• New technology can be evaluated in practice.
• Voice volume can be shaped.
• Voice volume apps can be used to provide feedback.
• Generalization and maintenance may be aided by signaling when
reinforcement is available.
* Byron Wine
Virginia Institute of Autism, Charlottesville, USA
Florida Institute of Technology, 1701 Byrd Ave.,
Richmond, VA 23230, USA
Behav Analysis Practice (2017) 10:407–410