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Frequently Asked Questions about PRT

Question 1: How do I embed reinforcers into the daily program?   >>

Question 2:  Aren’t reinforcement programs equivalent to bribery?  >>

Question 3:  Isn’t it unfair to the other learners in the classroom who do not receive reinforcers?  >>

Question 4: The learner seems to require additional time to understand the lesson, regardless of embedding PRT strategies. What else can I do?  >>

Question 5:  What can I do for a learner  who does not sit still during class?  >>

Question 6: How do I know PRT is working?  >>

Question 7:  How do I collect data in the classroom?  >>

1. How do I embed reinforcers into the daily program?

    It is important to build reinforcers that are obvious, immediate, and frequently used in regular activities.  Sometimes there can be a direct relationship between the reinforcer and the activity, such as selecting favorite words to spell. At other times, external reinforcers may need to be used as incentives. For example, placing a preferred item on the corner of the learner’s desk can serve as an incentive for what activity choices are available upon completion of the activity.

    Over time, as the learner becomes more motivated by the reinforcer of task completion, an alternative reinforcement system may be introduced. Attaching a paper grid to the corner of the desk can serve as a self-management tool in which the learner earns a check for each completed task. When the grid is filled, the learner can exchange it for his/her choice of an item from a reward box. This item can also help bridge social connections between the learner and his/her typically developing classmates as age-appropriate items and/or activities can be included (e.g., extra time on the computer or at recess, eating lunch with the teacher, board games, comic books, videos, magazines). The key is to select items and/or activities that are of high value to the learner but would also be accepted by peers of the same age.

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2. Aren’t reinforcement programs equivalent to bribery?

Bribes are generally made before people act, and they are often used to encourage people to do something that they should not do. On the other hand, reinforcements are given after people do things that they should do. Everyone exerts efforts for reinforcers; everyone is motivated and encouraged by incentives. People work very hard to earn an income in order to purchase things that they want. Learners with ASD also need to be rewarded for good work. Making learning enjoyable and fun so that the learner does not realize it is “work” is more feasible when providing reinforcers. However, it is important to consider changing the nature of the rewards over time so that the leaner also appreciates the positive social consequences of task completion. That is, rather than earning toys, the learner works hard because of the social incentives received from doing good work (e.g., sense of competency, peers’ words of encouragement, team member’s positive comments, parents’ praise).

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3. Isn’t it unfair to the other learners in the classroom who do not receive reinforcers?

All learners work for reinforcers: good grades, adult praise, self esteem, and so on. The use of different reinforcers for different learners does not have to be viewed as unfair.  Instead, the concept of individualization should be stressed. In addition, an environment can be created whereby added bonuses exist for the entire class. For example, rewards can translate into social interactions in which the learner with ASD invites peers to join in playing with the reinforcer. This can help increase the learner’s popularity among peers and provide more learning opportunities to develop age-appropriate social behaviors. It can also open a dialogue about how peers can help support the target learner’s needs and be better friends.

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4. The learner seems to require additional time to understand the lesson, regardless of embedding PRT strategies. What else can I do?

For learners who have difficulty beginning an assignment due to lack of comprehension, the first strategy may be to incorporate priming. Priming is a method of intervention that introduces information or activities that might be difficult for the learner to initially complete. This is typically done the afternoon or evening before new material is presented and is conducted as closely as possible to the way it will be presented in the classroom. Thus, the goal is to elicit similar responses that will be required from the other learners.  For example, in circle time, priming might consist of having the learner participate in “mock” activities, such as reciting the days of the week or listening to the story a few times. In another example, if an older learner does not understand or produce complex sentences, but the assignment involves retelling the story, the learner might be primed the day before by learning the names of the items through pictures. By previewing information or activities that the learner is likely to have difficulty with their  competence is more likely to increase in the given area before problem behaviors have a chance to develop.

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5. What can I do for a learner  who does not sit still during class?

It is important to examine the list of PRT strategies to determine whether each component is being effectively applied. For example, perhaps the learner does not sit still because too much time has elapsed before he receives the reinforcer. Thus, the reinforcer may not be an immediate or contingent consequence to the learner’s behavior. To improve learner participation, the reinforcer might need to be delivered within a very short amount of time (e.g., 1 minute) or after a small number of responses. Gradually, the amount of time or number of responses that the learner is required to make can be increased. Perhaps the learner does not sit still because prior attempts at participation have been unintentionally ignored. Remember that the learner needs to be rewarded for TRYING, regardless of whether the response is right or wrong. This will encourage more attempts and eventually, through trial and error, responding will improve. A learner may not sit still because the information is unclear. As noted earlier, priming can improve participation by developing a more predictable, familiar routine. It may also be helpful to make the assignment or instruction short and concise, removing irrelevant cues or reducing the complexity of speech. Another strategy to increase attention to participate in an activity is to allow the learner to feel a sense of control over the learning situation. This can be accomplished by offering choices, such as the type of utensil, materials, or equipment to use within the activity, the order to complete assignments, and/or the type of reinforcer to earn upon completion.

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6. How do I know whether PRT is working?

This is determined by the data you have collected on the learning objectives. It is important to develop data boxes per objective to evaluate whether the learner is progressing across teaching steps. If the PRT strategies are appropriately implemented, gains across the learner’s objectives should be evident. If limited or no progress occurs, the problem might be a lack of or inadequate use of one of the PRT strategies (as discussed in the previous FAQ paragraph). Alternatively, the teaching steps within the objective may need to be adjusted (i.e., modifying an existing step, adding a new step) to better support learning needs. An additional step might involve implementing other supports and resources (e.g., visual schedules, organizers, timers) to assist the learner in becoming oriented with the activity.

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7. How do I collect data in the classroom?

It is feasible to collect “live” data on the learner in a classroom setting. Once the objectives have been identified, the next step should be to identify the teaching steps that need to occur in order for the learner to acquire the entire objective. The teaching steps can be outlined in a vertical fashion with data boxes attached (see Example Data Sheets) so that performance across each step can easily be monitored. It is also helpful to highlight the target teaching step that is currently being taught. Using a sheet with the highlighted teaching steps indicated across objectives allows data to be collected in a timely and efficient manner.

As part of the data collection process it important to decide how often to collect data. Ideally, data should be collected as defined by the learner’s objective. In some cases, collecting data after specific activities is relevant, whereas for other objectives using timer intervals (e.g., every 30 minutes) makes more sense.

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