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Positive reinforcement refers to the presentation of a reinforcer after a learner uses a target behavior. Positive reinforcers can be either primary (e.g., food, liquids, comfort) or secondary (e.g., verbal praise, highly preferred activities, stickers, toys). Because primary reinforcers are often naturally reinforcing to learners with ASD, the value of secondary reinforcers must be learned by pairing primary reinforcers with other types of reinforcement (e.g., pairing “Good job” with getting a sticker).
Positive reinforcement is generally the strategy that team members use first when trying to teach new skills (e.g., teaching a replacement behavior for an interfering behavior) or to increase appropriate behaviors (Alberto & Troutman, 2008). When using any type of reinforcement procedure, it is important to keep in mind that reinforcers should be individualized to meet the needs of each learner with ASD. For example, one learner may respond well to a pat on the back, while another learner may need something more concrete such as being given the opportunity to play with play dough after engaging in a nonpreferred activity.
Example of Positive Reinforcement
A teacher wants to teach Matthew, a learner with ASD, to greet peers when he arrives at school in the morning. To teach this skill, the teacher gives Matthew a sticker and pats him on the back each time he greets a peer when he enters the classroom.
Jack’s dad gives him the tickles that two-year-old Jack enjoys every time he says “play me”.