July 12, 2016


The Foundational Five -- Reinforcement

This month we’ll cover reinforcement as we continue to discuss The Foundational Five evidence-based practices. So far we’ve discussed the proactive strategies of Antecedent-Based Interventions (ABI) and planning for teaching students with ASD through systematic instruction. Critical to the implementation of systematic instruction is understanding three terms; contingency, or the antecedent, behavior, and consequence (ABC) chain. Systematic instruction and the ABC chain helps us think about teaching new skills in a methodical way. The same can be said for reinforcement!

Essentially, reinforcement is one type of consequence that can be delivered when teaching and can be anything that increases the chance that a desired behavior will occur again in the future. Any time we use reinforcement, we make a behavior or skill stronger. Using reinforcement can encourage and motivate a student to work and to continue learning difficult skills. There are many different types of reinforcers to include: activity, edible, social reinforcers, material and token reinforcers. Reinforcement is important for students with ASD because when used effectively, it can positively influence their behavior and help teach vital skills.

Did you know?

Sometimes people mistakenly assume reinforcement is really just bribing a student in the moment. However, reinforcement is not bribery. Reinforcement is planned and is paired with a desired consequence to help a student learn a new skill as quickly and effectively as possible.

Reinforcement in the Classroom

How do I know what kind of reinforcer to use?

If you have a student who talks nonstop about his interests, then you probably already know exactly what will motivate him or her! But, if you have a student with very different communication abilities, then it might not be quite so apparent. One easy option for identifying reinforcers is to ASK! Ask anyone who knows the student and what he or she likes. Be sure to include parents, siblings, past teachers—anyone! A second easy option is simply to observe the student.

Because it may be difficult for the student who cannot verbalize their interests, there are other options which involve the student. You can use a visual support with options provided, such as a choice board. If a student cannot use a choice board, a preference assessment may also be utilized.

What are some tips for using reinforcement?

Define the skill!

Before you can reinforce something, you have to know WHAT to reinforce! During this step, take the time to carefully consider and define the skill you want to reinforce. It is necessary to define the skill clearly and concisely. The precision of this definition is important to first, help the student know why he is being reinforced, and second, help all team members know when to reinforce.

Determine WHEN and HOW OFTEN to reinforce!

The type and amount of reinforcement will vary from student to student. It will also vary from activity to activity. Some students need reinforcement EVERY SINGLE TIME he or she displays the targeted skill, especially when first learning the skill. Others will only need reinforcement at the end of the lesson, and others still may only need reinforcement at the end of the week. Every student is different! However, every student with ASD needs an individualized plan that describes in clear and measurable terms, when reinforcement will be implemented across all skills he or she is learning.

Want to Learn More?

For more in-depth information about The Foundational Five including reinforcement, sign up for the course Evidence Based Practices to Teach Students with ASD. The next course starts October 24, 2016.

Looking for something you can use right now?

Check out our seminars on reinforcement here: https://vcuautismcenter.org/te/seminars/seminarsByCategory.cfm?id=7

We also offer How To and Ask the Expert videos on reinforcement!

Don't Forget!!!

There are no scheduled webcasts for the summer; however, if you missed out on any of the presentations, be sure to check out the archives! Topics range from pre-k instruction to social skills interventions to personal stories from adults to updates in the legislature.

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