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The goal of reinforcement is to increase skills while gradually fading reinforcement strategies to promote maintenance and generalization through the use of reinforcement schedules (i.e., schedules of reinforcement). Schedules of reinforcement refer to the frequency or timing of the delivery of reinforcement following a target behavior. For example, a reinforcer can be delivered either on a continuous or on an intermittent schedule.
A continuous reinforcement schedule is used when learners with ASD are reinforced every time they use the target behavior. This type of reinforcement schedule is most often used when first teaching learners new skills. For example, during the toilet training process a toddler might be continuously reinforced by dad and mom after every toileting attempt or toileting success with an M&M, sticker, or other small reinforcer that is motivating to the child. Furthermore, reinforcers should be easily accessible so that they can be given to the toddler immediately. It also is important to keep in mind that reinforcers should be highly motivating to the child, decreasing the likelihood that they will lose their value quickly.
As learners become more proficient at using target skills, team members fade reinforcement by systematically applying intermittent reinforcement schedules, which can be either ratio or interval. With ratio reinforcement schedules, team members deliver reinforcement after a learner with ASD uses the target behavior a certain number of times. Interval reinforcement schedules, on the other hand, are time related. That is, reinforcement is provided after a certain amount of time.
Both types of intermittent reinforcement schedules can be either fixed or variable. Fixed and variable schedules often result in higher rates of performance than continuous schedules because learners do not know when reinforcement will be provided so they continue to work for it. Most team members naturally use fixed ratio or interval schedules. For example, most team members do not provide reinforcement each time a learner uses a target skill simply because their attention is divided among several students at one time. This also is true in families’ homes where parents are not able to reinforce continuously simply because they have other household demands or because they must attend to other children.
Reinforcement schedules are often used for different purposes. For instance, fixed schedules are more effective at shaping behaviors; whereas, variable schedules are useful when team members want to help a learner with ASD maintain a newly acquired skill. Table 1 provides a description of the reinforcement schedules that can be used to fade reinforcement with learners with ASD.
[ View PDF ] Table 1: Different Types of Reinforcement Schedules