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A consequent behavioral principal

Reinforcement: The behavioral deficits of children with autism often reflect behaviors or skills that are either non-existent or occur too infrequently to be functional.  The frequency of these behaviors can be increased using the behavioral principals of positive and negative reinforcement. In other words, the presentation or removal of stimulus immediately after a behavior resulting in an increased rate of behavior is future is defined as reinforcement.

Principles of reinforcement: There are two types of reinforcement, positive and negative reinforcement.

  • Positive Reinforcement: It is a process in which a consequence is presented following a response, which results in the same response likely to be exhibited again in future under the same situations. For example, adding something to the environment, like a child claps and a chip is given, the child claps more frequently. (Chip is a positive reinforce). Positive reinforce is thus an important tool that will help increase student’s repertoire of appropriate behaviors.
  • Negative Reinforcement: It means an aversion condition where something is taken away from/out of the environment. It can be used to increase the desired behaviors, particularly task-related behaviors, for students with autism. Negative reinforcement is “negative” because of the aversion condition that is removed or avoided, and “reinforcement” because it results in a behavior being repeated under similar circumstances. For example, child completes task with quiet hands, work session is ended, and child completes work with quiet hands more frequently. (Removal of work is a negative reinforce).

Positive & Negative Reinforcement System and child with Autism
Sometimes it can be difficult to find an effective positive reinforcers for students with autism, and because of the characteristic desire to be left alone, negative reinforcement is often more effective than positive reinforcement. However, despite negative reinforcement’s potential effectiveness, it is recommended that it be used only when once is not able to clearly identify positive reinforcer.

Guidelines for using the Positive Reinforcement System

  • The reinforcers muct be contingent, means deliver the reinforcement immediately after the desired behavior.
  • Be sure the desired reinforcers are contingent on appropriate behaviors. The stimulus much be given/taken away when the desirable behavior doesn’t happen.
  • Use small amounts of reinforcers each time.
  • Fade the primary reinforcers (edible reinforcers) as soon as possible and move to other types of reinforcers like social praise, which may be age appropriate for the child as well.
  • Fade the frequency of reinforcement.
  • Rely on natural reinforcers as much as possible. This also helps generalize many situations.

Guidelines to Selecting Reinforcers
Reinforcers are mainly of two types: Primary and Secondary Reinforcers.

  • Primary Reinforcers: These are reinforcers which are biological necessities as food, water, warmth and so on. They are intrinsic reinforcers, which need not be taught to demand. They serve as valuable teaching tools for children with autism, as other types of reinforcers have to be taught to be reinforcing.
  • Secondary Reinforcers: They are events or things that someone learns to like, but not need biologically as primary reinforcers. The four types are Social reinforcers, Material reinforcers, Activity reinforcers and Token reinforcers.

Selecting reinforcers can be a challenge for the children with autism, as they are not always motivated and reinforced by lot things, like their neuro-typical peers. Generally however, one should select the reinforcer that is most similar to what might be found in the environment, this as  more the child learns to respond to naturally occurring reinforcers, the more likely the student is to generalize skills to other environments. Guidelines to selecting reinfrocers:

  • Observe the child to develop the reinforcer listing
    • What activities, objects, foods and so on do the child chooses when allowed free choices?
    • Are there certain phrases, gestures and so on that seems to produce a pleasant response from the child?
    • What self-stimulatory behaviors do the student exhibits?
  • Use a reinforcer menu to let the child choose reinforcers
    • Create a menu of possible reinforcers listed either by name, if the child can read, or by pictures (photographs are best)
    • When the child earns a reinforcers, allow him to select a desired object, food, activity and so on from the menu. You may have to teach the child to make choices.
  • Ask the student, what they would like to earn ( preferences)
    • Ask the student, if he has sufficient language skills to communicate, as what he/she would like to earn for the good work.
    • Student with limited choices can also pick a picture from array of pictures to indicate what he/she would like to earn for the good work.
  • Ask others involved with the child ( parents at home or teachers at school)
    • Ask the child’s parents what child would like to earn.
    • Ask the teachers what child prefers at school as a preferred reinforcer.
  • Conduct a reinforcer sampling
    • Arrange several possible reinforcers on a table.
    • Allow the child to non-contingently choose from the array of objects, foods or other preferred activities.
    • Record the preferences to see, what child has preferred to choose the most from  the array. The higher the checklist score for the activity/food/object, that can be used a s a reinforce.
  • Use the Autism Reinforcer Checklist
    • Have parents complete a copy of checklist
    • Use the checklist to generate ideas for new or novel reinforcers.
    • Have students who can read check off the items they like and dislike.

Reinforcement Schedules is a rule that establishes the probability that a specific occurrence of a behavior will produce reinforcement. There are many kinds of Reinforcement Schedules

  • Ratio (R): A certain number of responses is emitted before the reinforcement is delivered ( eg. the reinforcer after 3 tokens or after 3 correct responses).
  • Interval (I): A given interval of time elapses before reinforcement is delivered.
  • Fixed (F): The ratio or interval remains the same every time before reinforcement is delivered.
  • Variable (V): The ratio or interval varies from, one reinforcement to the next before reinforcement is delivered.

Possible Reinforcement Schedules: Reinforcement schedule is used in school settings for children with autism to teach new skills and also for the maintenance of already acquired skills. Parents can also easily incorporate schedule for the same purpose.

  • Fixed Ratio (FR): A designed number of responses must be emitted before reinforcement occurs eg: FR2= 2nd response is reinforced.
  • Variable Ratio (VR): The number of responses prior to reinforcement varies. E.g. VR3=the average number of responses before reinforcement is 3
  • Fixed Interval (FI): A designed interval of time must pass before reinforcement is provided; e.g. FI10= the first target response that occurs after 10 minutes has elapsed is reinforced.

Variable Interval (VI): The intervals of time between reinforcement vary in a random or nearly random order, and the average interval is the one stated; e.g.VI5= reinforcement is delivered on an average of every 5 minutes.


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