Guidelines for Using Reinforcers for Children with Autism

When utilizing reinforcers during aba therapy sessions at school there are a few things that should be considered before offering them to a student for performing correct tasks.  Following these guidelines will help increase the effectiveness of reinforcers.

Top 4 tips when using reinforcers

  1. One thing to keep in mind is that reinforcers used during sessions should not be given to students outside of sessions.  This can decrease the reinforcer’s value and the student may no longer be motivated to work for that reinforcer.
  2. Reinforcers can also change over time.  A reinforcer that used to be highly motivating may end up being aversive to that student.  If a student loses interest in a particular item, the student may be satiated on the reinforcer.  In this instance it is best to rotate your reinforcers and perhaps deprive the student of the satiated reinforcer for some time until the reinforcer becomes reinforcing once again.
  3. Placing too much work on a student for a specific reinforcer may also make the reinforcer less motivating to work for.
  4. Reinforcers should be placed on a hierarchy with the most motivating reinforcers used for more difficult tasks and less motivating reinforcers used for easier or maintenance tasks.

When to display the reinforcer to the student

Remember to keep reinforcers out of sight until the task has been completed.  Reinforcers can sometimes be too distracting to students and they may perseverate on them rather than focus on what they should be working on.  However, reinforcers should be shown to a student if they are working on manding/requesting.  It allows the student to see what they want and to request that item only when it is present.  Reinforcers should be shown to the student before the task begins so that they are aware that access to the reinforcer depends on their performance during the task and to increase motivation to perform.

Reinforcers and problem behaviors

Other things that you should keep in mind with reinforcers is that they should not be given after problem behaviors have occurred.  Doing this may result in greater difficulty in reducing the problem behavior.    Reinforcers are the most important tool in skill acquisition and behavior reduction programs. Remember to always evaluate their effectiveness during sessions and to make informed decisions regarding the type and amount of reinforcers used.

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