Training and Assessment of Relational Precursors and Abilities (TARPA)

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Understanding and accounting for the ability to produce and understand completely novel sentences--accounting for the generativity of language--is critical to any account of language development (Malott, 2003), and to the creation of programs for teaching flexible and fully functional language repertoires.

RFT explains linguistic generativity in terms of learned contextually controlled relational responding referred to as relational framing. Typically developing children learn relational framing through natural language interactions during which they are exposed to contingencies that establish these response patterns (e.g., Lipkens, Hayes & Hayes, 1993; Luciano, Gómez & Rodríguez, 2007). However, children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) do not easily learn this key form of responding (e.g., Rehfeldt, Dillen, Ziomek, & Kowalchuk, 2007). Nonetheless, they can benefit from training of this repertoire (e.g., Murphy & Barnes-Holmes, 2009).

The Training & Assessment of Relational Precursors & Abilities (TARPA) is a recently developed computer-based protocol for the assessment of a progression of key domains of responding critical to the development of generative language. The TARPA is comprised of ten stages as follows: (i) basic discrimination; (ii) conditional discrimination involving similarity; (iii) conditional discrimination involving non-similarity (2 comparisons); (iv) conditional discriminations involving non-similarity (3 comparisons); (v) mutually entailed relational responding [e.g., deriving the symmetrical relation B --> A from the trained relation A --> B] (2 comparisons); (vi) mutually entailed relational responding (3 comparisons); (vii) combinatorial entailed relational responding [e.g., deriving the combinatorial relations A --> C and C --> A when trained with A--> B and B--> C] (2 comparisons); (viii) transfer of function [responding to a stimulus in a new and appropriate way based on it’s participation in a derived sameness relation] (2 comparisons); (ix) combinatorial entailed relational responding (3 comparisons); (x) transfer of function (3 comparisons). Each stage is further subdivided into multiple levels, and in the stages assessing derived relations (i.e., Stages 5-10), levels are subdivided into training sections and derivation sections.

A preliminary version of the TARPA has been correlated with the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale (VABS; Sparrow, Cicchetti & Balla, 2005). Currently ongoing research is using the most up-to-date version to assess the emergence of relational responding with typically developing children and children with autism in order to correlate performance on this protocol with level of functioning as assessed using standardized measures of language and cognition (e.g., PLS-4; Zimmerman, Steiner & Pond, 2002) as well as to gain some insight into the hierarchical structuring and other features of the protocol to aid its further development and refinement. For access to the TARPA and the TARPA manual, please email Siri Ming at


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