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with Heather Gilmore, MSW, LLMSW, BCBA

Use Music to Reduce Vocal Stereotypy in Individuals with Autism

Vocal stereotypic behaviors are sometimes seen in individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Although the behavior itself is not necessarily a problem, when it interferes with learning and development, the behavior may be important to address.

It is important to consider whether the behavior being targeted in ABA services is of social significance as this is one of the main characteristics of applied behavior analysis. Social significance refers to targeting areas which are important to the client, to man, or to society rather than simply an interesting theoretical concept.

In the case of vocal stereotypy, this may be considered a socially significant area specifically when the behavior is interfering with the individual from making progress in specific skill areas. Additionally, vocal stereotypy may impact social skills and communication skills making the behavior a socially significant issue.

Vocal stereotypy is often maintained by automatic reinforcement (although professionals should assess the individual to be sure of the function of the behavior rather than assuming that all vocal stereotypy is maintained by automatic reinforcement).

Behaviors that are maintained by automatic reinforcement can be challenging to address in a natural setting as well as in a clinical setting.

Two common intervention strategies for behaviors maintained by automatic reinforcement include:

  1. Matched stimulation (MS)
  2. Response interruption and redirection (RIRD)

MS is an antecedent intervention that provides noncontingent access to a stimulus that is presumed to be similar to the one the individual obtains from the displayed behavior.

RIRD is a consequence strategy that may be considered a punishment procedure in which the individual’s vocal stereotypy is interrupted and then the individual is required to display a number of vocal responses absent of the vocal stereotypic behavior.

Gibbs, Tullis, Thomas, and Elkins, completed a study in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis titled, “The effects of noncontingent music and response interruption and redirection on vocal stereotypy” (2018) to evaluate the impact of MS and RIRD on reducing vocal stereotypy and increasing on-task behavior. In this study, the participants were provided with noncontingent music as the MS stimulus.

The authors used partial interval recording to track vocal stereotypy with an objective definition describing the behavior. On-task behavior was measured with duration data.

The authors found that using matched stimulation in the form of noncontingent music with response interruption and redirection decreased vocal stereotypy and increased on-task behavior.

This study demonstrates that using antecedent strategies (in combination with a consequence strategy) to influence motivating operations can be a useful strategy to decrease vocal stereotypy and possibly other automatically reinforced behaviors, as well.

Reference: Gibbs, A. R., Tullis, C. A., Thomas, R. and Elkins, B. (2018), The effects of noncontingent music and response interruption and redirection on vocal stereotypy. Jnl of Applied Behav Analysis, 51: 899-914. doi:10.1002/jaba.485

Use Music to Reduce Vocal Stereotypy in Individuals with Autism

Heather Gilmore, MSW, BCBA

Heather is a freelance writer, Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), and social worker. Heather takes interest in topics related to parenting, children, families, personal development, health and wellness, applied behavior analysis, as well as Autism, ADHD, Depression and Anxiety. Contact Heather if you would like to inquire about obtaining her freelance writing services.You can view more articles and resources from Heather at and email her at [email protected] can also advertise your autism services at one of Heather's websites: is the developer of the "One-Year ABA Parent Training Curriculum."


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APA Reference
Gilmore, H. (2019). Use Music to Reduce Vocal Stereotypy in Individuals with Autism. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 25, 2020, from