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 MODULE: Reinforcement

What Other Factors Should Be Considered When Using Reinforcement?

When implementing a reinforcement program, team members should consider four additional factors: (a) principles of reinforcement, (b) satiation, (c) deprivation, and (d) habituation.

Principles of Reinforcement

When implementing reinforcement, team members should keep in mind several principles.

Reinforcement should be delivered according to a planned reinforcement schedule.

Initially, team members immediately provide learners with reinforcement after they use the target skill. As learners become more proficient, team members gradually fade the use of reinforcement.       

Reinforcement should be delivered frequently.

This principle is particularly important when a learner with ASD is first learning a new skill. If the target skill is not reinforced frequently, the learner may not use the skill enough for it to become well established.        

Reinforcement should be delivered enthusiastically.       

When team members provide reinforcement with enthusiasm, learners with ASD begin to realize that they have done something important.

Team members establish eye contact when providing reinforcement.   

Team members should look learners in the eye when delivering a reinforcer even if the learner is not looking at them. Making eye contact suggests to learners that they have done something important and that they have a teacher’s undivided attention. Eye contact itself may become reinforcing over time if used consistently.        

Team members describe the target skill when reinforcement is provided.

By describing the skill, team members identify the behavior that is being reinforced. This is particularly important for learners with ASD because they may not know what behavior or skill resulted in the reinforcement.        

Team members pair any reinforcement with social reinforcement, whenever possible.       

Because learners with ASD are generally not motivated by social reinforcers such as praise, team members should provide social reinforcement in conjunction with other types of reinforcement (e.g., tangible, activity). When this is done, learners with ASD learn that interacting with other individuals is fun, and social reinforcement becomes more motivating to learners with ASD.

A variety of reinforcers are used.

Over time, learners with ASD may grow tired of the same reinforcer. As a result, they may stop using the target skill because they are no longer motivated to do so. Reinforcers should be changed frequently so that reinforcement continues to be effective.

Reinforcers are age appropriate.

Team member should identify reinforcers that are appropriate for the age of the learner. For example, it may not be appropriate to use stickers with a high school-aged learner with ASD who receives services in an inclusive setting (Rhode, Jensen, & Reavis, 1992).    

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