Reinforcement is a powerful principle in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy that can help children with autism learn and develop new skills. In this blog, we’ll break down the basics of reinforcement, explain how it works, and provide practical tips for parents to incorporate reinforcement strategies at home. Our aim is to empower parents with the knowledge and tools to support their child’s progress and success.

What is Reinforcement?

Reinforcement is a process that increases the likelihood of a behavior occurring again in the future. In simple terms, it involves rewarding or praising a desired behavior to encourage its repetition. Reinforcement can be positive, where something is added to increase the behavior, or negative, where something is removed to increase the behavior.

How Reinforcement Works

Positive Reinforcement:

This involves adding something desirable or enjoyable after a behavior to increase the likelihood of that behavior happening again. For example, giving a child a favorite toy after they complete a task.

Negative Reinforcement

This involves removing something aversive or unpleasant after a behavior to increase the likelihood of that behavior happening again. For example, allowing a child to escape a non-preferred activity after completing a task.

Reinforcement Strategies for Children with Autism

Identify Motivators

Determine what activities, items, or experiences are highly motivating for your child. These can be used as rewards for desired behaviors.

Use Immediate Feedback

Provide praise or rewards immediately after the desired behavior occurs to reinforce its connection to the action.

Be Consistent

Consistency is key to reinforcement. Make sure to consistently reward desired behaviors to strengthen them over time.

Gradually Fade Reinforcement

As a behavior becomes more established, gradually reduce the frequency of reinforcement to encourage independence.

Individualize Reinforcement

Every child is unique, so tailor reinforcement strategies to your child’s preferences and needs.

Monitor Progress

Keep track of your child’s progress and adjust reinforcement strategies as needed to maintain effectiveness.

Reinforcement in Action

  • Example 1: A child with autism is learning to communicate using words. Every time they use a word to request something, they are immediately given the requested item as positive reinforcement.
  • Example 2: A child is working on completing a puzzle. Each time they successfully complete a section of the puzzle, they are allowed a short break from the activity as negative reinforcement.

Variety of Reinforcers

We also want to consider the variety of our reinforcers. It’s very important to consider a wide variety of reinforcers to be able to provide so that the child does not become satiated or sick of the reinforcer being provided over time.

Primary Reinforcers

These are things that everyone finds naturally rewarding because they meet basic needs, like food, water, and sleep. Imagine your favorite snack or a refreshing drink on a hot day – those are primary reinforcers because they make you feel good without needing to learn about them.

Secondary Reinforcers

These are things that we learn to find rewarding because they’re associated with primary reinforcers or other things we like. For example, if every time you do your homework, you get a gold star sticker, eventually, you’ll start to really like those stickers because they remind you of the feeling you get when you do well. So, even though stickers aren’t necessary for survival like food and water, they become rewarding because they’re connected to something you enjoy.

In simple terms, primary reinforcers are things we naturally like, while secondary reinforcers are things we learn to like because they’re connected to something we naturally enjoy. Both types of reinforcers are important in helping us learn and do things we need to do!

Empowering Your Child’s Progress

Reinforcement is a valuable tool for parents of children with autism to support their learning and development. By understanding the principles of reinforcement and incorporating effective strategies into everyday interactions, parents can empower their child’s progress and foster positive behaviors.

By implementing reinforcement strategies at home and working collaboratively with professionals, parents can create a supportive environment that promotes their child’s growth and development.

Cultivate Behavioral Health & Education is here to help! Contact our team at (855) 444-5664 to learn more about the different strategies you can implement in your child’s life to assist with their ABA treatment plan.