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Identifying Reinforcement Opportunities in Autism Therapy

Identifying Reinforcement Opportunities in Autism Therapy

Okay, here is a confession – I really like pizza. In fact, I would be willing to help a friend move into her new house for some pizza.


Author: Thomas Altro

Okay, here is a confession – I really like pizza. In fact, I would be willing to help a friend move into her new house for some pizza. However, if my friend were to ask me to help her move into her house, wash her cars, walk her dogs, and mow her lawn, I am not so sure that pizza would be quite worth the effort.

The point of this silly example is to illustrate that the “pay off” should be balanced with the effort involved in children with autism’s response.

If your child frequently engages in problem behavior after completing two or three problems on a worksheet of six math problems, it may be time to spread out your lessons to include more breaks.

Tailor Lesson Plans to Compensate for Autism’s Response

Planning ahead of time to give your child a brief break after completing a single math problem rather than the entire worksheet will likely be more effective in increasing compliant behavior when working on worksheets.

In order to identify something that may act as a reinforcer, it is also important to watch your child to get a sense of what he or she is interested in or motivated for.

What is a Reinforcement?

Reinforcement is a major part of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). The clinical definition is that reinforcement is something that occurs after a particular behavior that makes that behavior more likely to happen again in the future. Once you have identified a behavior that you want to repeat, identify a reinforcer that is likely to lead to a continuation of that desired behavior. Thus, feeding me pizza (reinforcer) will motivate me to help my friend move into her house (desired behavior). Here is a video that goes a little deeper.

Reinforcements May Change

Your child’s interests and motivation may change from moment to moment for a number of different reasons. For example, a skittle is less likely to act as a reinforcer if your child has just finished dessert than if he or she is hungry for sweets.

The toys your child chooses and plays with the longest from a group of other toys are more likely to act as reinforcers than those he or she ignores or plays with very little.

The important thing to remember is this: Follow where your child’s interests and motivation leads you and you will likely find out what will be reinforcing for him or her at that moment.

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