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 MODULE: Reinforcement

Step-by-Step Instructions

In this module, separate sets of Step-By-Step Instructions are provided for each reinforcement procedure: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, and token economy programs.

[ View PDF ] Positive Reinforcement Steps

[ View PDF ] Token Economy Programs Steps

[ View PDF ] Negative Reinforcement Steps

Next Steps

Reinforcement is often used to teach target skills by gradually shaping learner behavior, particularly when a learner infrequently or never displays a target skill. With shaping (also known as successive approximations), team members reinforce progressively closer approximations of the target skill rather than the lesser approximations. Approximations refer to any behavior that resembles the target skill and should be reinforced. Prompts are often used and then systematically faded when shaping new behaviors or skills. Please refer to the AIM module on prompting: (National Professional Development Center on ASD, 2008) for more information about prompting.

When using reinforcement to shape behaviors, team members should follow a series of steps to ensure that the closer approximations of the skill are reinforced appropriately. The first steps are similar to those outlined in the Step-by-Step Instructions for positive reinforcement. They include (a) selecting the target behavior, (b) collecting baseline data, and (c) selecting reinforcers.

Once these steps have been completed, team members identify successive approximations of the target skill, or the steps toward the target behavior. For example, a target skill for a toddler with ASD may be to use two-word phrases to request. The toddler’s team members decides to teach him to say, “More, please.” at snack to request more food. The following example illustrates the successive approximations that might be reinforced using shaping.

Any vocalization
Says, “Muh”
Says, “More”
Says, “More, peese.”
Says, “More, please.”

Next, team members implement shaping by reinforcing successive approximations of the target skill each time it occurs. Initially, team members use a continuous schedule of reinforcement by providing an identified reinforcer each time the learner uses an approximation successively. After the learner uses an approximation successfully three times, team members implement intermittent schedules of reinforcement (e.g., interval, ratio) to help learners maintain the use of newly acquired skills. The following example illustrates how reinforcement can be used to shape learner behavior.

     Tommy is a 4-year-old with ASD, who receives services in an inclusive preschool classroom. Currently, Tommy grunts to get his needs met and has no verbal language. A goal for Tommy is to use two-word phrases. His parents have expressed that they would like him to be able to verbally request rather than grunt to get his needs met. Tommy’s teacher, Ms. Miller, has decided to use reinforcement to shape this behavior. Tommy is particularly motivated by food, so Ms. Miller is going to teach Tommy how to use two-word phrases at meals. She plans to give him small portions of food so that he must request to get more.
     At snack the next day, Ms. Miller gives Tommy a small portion of goldfish crackers and fills his cup about ¼ full with juice. As he finishes his crackers, Tommy reaches for the box in front of Ms. Miller, who holds the box up and says, “What do you want, Tommy?” Tommy grunts. Ms. Miller then says, “More, please.” Tommy vocalizes, “Uh.” Since Ms. Miller identified any vocalization as the first approximation, she immediately provides him with more goldfish. Ms. Miller completes this process two more times and immediately provides Tommy with more food each time he vocalizes.
     After Tommy successfully vocalizes three times, Ms. Miller no longer provides him with reinforcement when he vocalizes. Instead, she teaches a closer approximation by saying, “More, please. Say, ‘More’.” Initially, Tommy gets upset because Ms. Miller does not provide him with more goldfish after he vocalizes. Ms. Miller continues to model the target skill until Tommy says, “Muh.” As soon as Tommy uses the next approximation, Ms. Miller immediately provides more goldfish. This process is repeated for each approximation until the target behavior is acquired.

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