Hi BTL Fam!

What is the one ABA component we strive to do every day? We will give you a hint… it starts with R!

Reinforcement is at the top of our list in the ABA world. Why, you might ask? Because reinforcement INCREASES the likelihood of a behavior occurring. The definition of reinforcement is a consequence that follows a behavior and makes that behavior more likely to happen in the future. A reinforcer will only work if it is preferred by the individual being reinforced. For example, if we tried to use a pen as a reinforcer for a child, they probably won’t be reinforced by the pen. BUT, if we were to give a rare edition pen to someone who collects pens, then that person would be reinforced because the pen was highly preferred. It is important to understand that there is not a universal set of reinforcers because every person’s reinforcers are going to be unique and may change frequently.

There are TWO types of reinforcement. Positive(+) and Negative (-). For both of these types, the behavior will always be increased.

Positive reinforcement means that we are adding something in order to increase a behavior. Think “a child gets rewarded”

Negative reinforcement means that we remove something in order to increase a behavior. Think “a child gets to escape or get out of something they don’t want to do”. i.e. a child gets out of doing the dishes as a chore.

Evidence based practices have proven that reinforcement ALWAYS works! It works best when it is provided immediately after the desired behavior is exhibited. Say Billy’s mom wants him to complete his dinner. She says “first eat all your food, then we will get ice cream”. Once Billy cleans his plate, his mother gives him a scoop of chocolate ice cream. Billy is now more likely to eat his entire dinner because he has been reinforced by a preferred item (ice cream).

Note: This is POSITIVE reinforcement.

How to use reinforcement:

  1. Tell the child what behavior you liked
    • This helps the child know what they are being reinforced for
  2. Provide a consequence that matches the value for the behavior
    • Make sure that the reinforcer is not too large or too small for the behavior. Verbal praise can be reinforcing enough for small behaviors whereas larger behaviors may need larger reinforcers. Consider this: we wouldn’t throw a party for a child saying “thank you” but we might if that child learned how to use the potty.
  3. Provide the reinforcement within 3 seconds of the behavior
    • We want to deliver the reinforcement as immediate as possible
    • If this isn’t possible, use 8-9 words to describe the behavior that you liked
  4. Use appropriate facial expressions, tone of voice, and a relaxed body language
    • For reinforcement we want to provide enthusiastic and animated facial expressions, raise your voice to an excited tone, and have a calm body.
  5. Ignore any “junk” behavior
    • Don’t say anything about unwanted behavior
    • Instead of saying “I like that you aren’t screaming” try saying “I like that you asked me with your words”
  6. Avoid Coercion and Punishment
    • Try pointing out the good things that are happening such as “I like that you’re sitting at the table”, “I like that you are trying so hard”, etc.
  7. Make sure that the consequence that you are using is actually reinforcing
    • You can tell this if the behavior happens more often in the future

Remember that reinforcement means we will be noticing behaviors we like, knowing what consequences are important to your child, and reinforcing the behaviors to increase the likelihood of beneficial behaviors occurring more often than less desirable behaviors.

By: Heidi Martin, B.S., M.A. Outreach Consultant