Children playing at a table.

What is positive reinforcement? It is really a concept within ABA that we base the majority of our teaching on. This concept simply states that when a behavior is followed by reinforcement that behavior will occur more in the future. It essentially looks like, providing a reward immediately after a behavior that you desire to increase. Within Applied Behavior Analysis, positive reinforcement is used in a variety of ways. ABA frequently uses positive reinforcement to teach a more beneficial alternative to potentially harmful or undesirable behaviors. It is also often used in helping children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) learn and increase appropriate behaviors throughout a variety of areas, including social skills, communication skills, and necessary life skills. Through the help of therapists and caregivers, consistent use of reinforcement has the power to create positive, lasting behavioral changes.

Mother and child smiling

Why Use Positive Reinforcement?

Through ABA therapy, your treatment team would identify with you what behaviors are significant to your child. Once you’ve identified areas of growth to target, your team will make a plan to teach these new behaviors. Your child’s ABA therapist will develop an individualized plan tailored to his needs, abilities, skills, and interests. By teaching and reinforcing communication skills, social skills, and necessary life skills it will allow your child to thrive in their community. Positive reinforcers are a key tool in increasing the likelihood new behaviors will be repeated and increases the chance they will be long-term. These reinforcers are determined by knowing what is most meaningful or motivating to your child, and what he has responded well to in previous situations. It may be a specific toy or favorite game on a device. The motivator, especially when it is a food item, is always paired with encouragement, praise, and social attention.

Positive Reinforcement vs. Bribes

It is important to discuss and understand the difference between a positive reinforcer and a bribe. Some have held the misconception that ABA therapy uses bribes to teach new behaviors to children with behavioral challenges. A bribe is offered before a task is performed, to coax a specific action (i.e. please do your homework, if you do you can have a cookie). Positive reinforcers are given only after the desired action has been performed (i.e. wow! Great job doing your homework! Let’s go have a snack).

The Role of Caregivers

By creating a plan with various goals to be met, the process is taken slowly, introduced during therapy sessions, and practiced in your child’s natural environments. You and any of his additional caregivers are given guidance on how to continue using positive reinforcement at home, school, or other natural settings. You have the powerful insight his therapist relies on to know which reinforcers are working well or what may make a better motivator.

Measuring Success

As the new behavior begins to emerge with less guidance, the use of the reinforcer is lessened.
When your child shows the ability to use the desired behavior in his natural environment without modeling, prompting, or the need for positive reinforcement, it is considered a mastered skill.

For more information on our ABA program and additional services, visit our Detroit-based Center today. If you reside outside the metro area, we encourage you to browse through our helpful resources.

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