Child and adult playing with cards

Positive reinforcement is one of the most effective and vital components of dealing with challenging behaviors in children with autism and other behavioral issues. Proper and consistent implementation by professionals and caregivers provides your child with the tools and resources necessary to replace these challenging behaviors. At Blossom Children’s Center, we are here to support your family while working together to help your child thrive in their natural environments. Through the use of positive reinforcement best practices, in combination with necessary therapies, including ABA therapy, we will guide you through your journey to help your child succeed.

Common Behavioral Challenges

While each child has their own set of strengths and needs, there can be common challenges among children with autism. Learning to address these challenges through ABA therapy and consistent positive reinforcement methods offers your child the best chance to learn and adopt beneficial skills and behaviors.

Challenging or harmful behaviors in children with autism that these methods address may include:

  • Normal daily activities and skillsets
  • Aggressive behavior and self-injury
  • Seeking and avoidance
  • Mood instability, tantrums, and meltdowns, including harmful coping mechanisms
  • Improper social skills and communication difficulties
  • Repetitive actions and restricting interests
  • ADHD, anxiety, and other psychiatric conditions that may hinder learning
  • Noise sensitivity and their reaction and ability to handle such environments
  • Sleep disturbance issues
  • Sensory issues and reactions
  • Physical fitness concerns leading to health issues
  • Executive function issues

Small child pouting

Understanding the Role of Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is a successful form of behavioral management and beneficial for replacing challenging behavioral issues. Using positive reinforcement in combination with ABA therapy allows therapists to replace undesirable or potentially harmful behaviors with new behaviors and skills. Utilizing this particular reward system consists of selecting privileges or items your child holds as meaningful to them. It offers a reward to strive for during the learning and reshaping process. This highly personal and meaningful reward aims to provide the incentive that may lead to forming new and life-changing behaviors and skills. Positive reinforcements are extremely valuable when modifying your child’s most challenging behaviors.

Modeling and Positive Reinforcements

Through modeling behaviors during ABA therapy, your child learns through repetition, while striving to attain their reward. This method strengthens the likelihood of the adoption of this new skill or behavior. Positive reinforcement has the power to eventually result in long-lasting, positive behavior, or life skill. If modeling the positive behavior or ability is not immediately successful, the reward is not given, and the modeling process continues to repeat as necessary. ABA therapy provides your child with the time they require to learn and repeat the new skills and behaviors in a safe environment while encouraging practice in their natural habitats.

Your child’s reinforcer is typically one they show excitement for and is not generally attainable to them. Working for their special reward helps increase their desire to learn, model, and adopt the new behavior. The most personal, meaningful reinforcers help children with ASD form beneficial behaviors and skills they may use, including:

  1. Life skills
  2. Communications skills
  3. Social interactions
  4. Self-care skills
  5. Classroom readiness skills

Your child’s therapists will work closely with their educators, caregivers, and family members, to learn how to consistently and adequately use positive reinforcement to implement change while strengthening lasting behavioral changes. When pairing positive reinforcements with ABA therapy, it is vital not to deviate from their plan. It provides consistency for the child to improve the chances of forming a long-lasting behavior.

The Role of ABA Therapy

ABA therapy is a scientifically validated form of therapy that examines how your child’s behavior and learning happen. ABA therapy practices the repetition and consistent practice of new, helpful behaviors across all your child’s natural environments. ABA therapy relies on the successful methods of positive reinforcement, providing your child with motivators they do not tend to have easy access to daily. ABA therapists and your child’s team will be in charge of determining their personal reinforcers. Their team will also rely on gaining your input and insight into what motivates your child most by evaluating what they respond well to, both in sessions and their real-life situations.

­­­­­ Pairing ABA Therapy and Positive Reinforcements Successfully

Combining these two incredibly successful methods increases your child’s success rate while learning, implementing, and continuing these new skills. Pairing the motivator with your encouragement, words of praise, and repetition is crucial. The reinforcer will be a reward they are eager to strive towards. Think about what your child craves most. It may be receiving extra screen time on a tablet or tv, their favorite treat, or toy they don’t usually spend much time with. The greater the value, the higher the likelihood they will work hard to repeat the new skills and behaviors independently. Eventually, with practice through repetition during ABA therapy and at home, the new ability will become natural to your child.

Positive Reinforcement vs. Punishment

There was a time when the treatment of challenging behaviors of a child with autism was to implement punishment. The use of punishment was a quick and seemingly effective way to bring about behavioral changes. Most did not have a great understanding of autism, and a diagnosis often meant they were dealing with a psychiatric disorder. Decades later, a scientific breakthrough – positive reinforcement -successfully introduces new skills and behaviors, leading to the creation of long-term results. Positive reinforcements began replacing the use of punishment with patients living with autism. ABA therapy’s new approach was to remove abusive treatment and punishment to gain desirable behaviors, drastically revolutionizing the treatment of autism.

Child throwing a tantrum

Positive Reinforcement vs. Bribes

There are ongoing discussions voicing concern that positive reinforcements are simply bribes. It’s imperative to clear up misconceptions between a bribe and positive reinforcement.  A bribe offers a reward before a desirable task, to encourage performance. Bribes coax a specific action, while positive reinforcements come only after the completion of new, desirable behavior.

The Caregiver’s Role in Positive Reinforcements

As a parent of a child with autism, you play a critical role in your child’s ABA therapy and positive reinforcement. Their success is a direct result of your valuable insight and follow-through in real-life situations. Your child’s ABA therapist will work closely with you to gather the information that will allow them to create a plan consisting of the most important goals for your child to achieve.

During ABA therapy sessions, parents will learn through demonstrations, education, and the implementation of various strategies to find what works best with your child. You will have the tools and resources necessary to carry out proper instruction in your natural environments. If additional caregivers would like or need training, support, or guidance in carrying out your child’s positive reinforcement plan, options and arrangements are typically available. This support includes educating caregivers in the use of positive reinforcements at your child’s daycare, school, church, or other natural environments.

As your child’s cheerleader and primary caregiver, you have invaluable insights to share with your child’s team of therapists. It is essential to relay details to your child’s team so that they can adequately determine the most effective strategies and reinforcers to implement. Sharing concerns as well as further information on successes and failures outside of ABA therapy sessions help make improvements, develop new strategies, and strengthen reward systems. What works for one behavior or skill may need to undergo minor adjustments for another. Your consistent tracking and sharing of all information help determine these necessary modifications to increase the chances of a successful behavioral change.

Documenting Behaviors

Most parents keep a personal notebook of daily routines, outings, struggles, and achievements. Documenting is an excellent way to keep track of questions that arise, allowing you to address them at their next ABA therapy session. Our team has put together some helpful tips for parents and caregivers to include in their journaling efforts:

  • Keep a list readily available of your child’s goals set by you and their team of therapists.
  • Take notes often, including what is in progress, reaching mastery, or obstacles causing difficulty.
  • If positive reinforcement isn’t working well, make a note of what the concern is and what may currently motivate your child.
  • Make a note of activities your child prefers, as it may result in more willingness to adopt new behaviors and skills.
  • Remember, this is priceless, quality time you and your child have together. Have fun learning and growing together. Don’t forget to award encouragement and praise as you work towards improving behaviors.

Measuring Positive Reinforcement Success

Over time, new skills and behaviors will begin to reoccur naturally. Less modeling, positive reinforcements, and guidance will be necessary. Once your child demonstrates the repetitive use of the behavior or skill on their own without prompting or the need for positive reinforcement, it is time to consider it a success.

Are There Specific Behaviors ABA Therapy and Positive Reinforcements Focus On?

When you hear discussions of changing behaviors through ABA therapy, there may be misinterpretation that it is a way to target bad behavior. This belief simply isn’t so. ABA therapy focuses on creating new, productive behaviors across all aspects of your child’s life for them to thrive. For some children, communication skills may be a primary area of focus. Finding reliable ways to create skills and behavior that allow your child to express their feelings adequately is vital. For example, each ABA therapist works closely with the Speech Language therapist to meet your child’s communication needs. As a team, they can develop a specific course of action using positive reinforcements to achieve new skills, adjust behaviors, and meet their goals. Additional therapists on their team benefit by changing behaviors that lead to improving skills in their self-grooming routines and other self-care abilities.

Social skills are another crucial area in which ABA therapy and positive reinforcements play a significant role in meeting your child’s need to thrive. Increasing capabilities in sociability allow them to better communicate with, work with, and share with their caregivers and peers. Whether in a school setting or a playgroup, combining positive reinforcements with ABA therapy offers a way to help your child learn acceptable behaviors, form life skills, and develop the social skills to flourish in a group or one-on-one settings across any environment.

It is essential to understand the difference between harmful and poor behavior. Positive reinforcement is used in combination with ABA therapy to help children replace potentially harmful or undesirable behaviors with these new behaviors. It’s successful use in helping children with ASD learn appropriate behaviors throughout a variety of areas, including social skills and necessary life skills, is essential. Through the help of therapists and caregivers, consistent use of positive reinforcement has the power to create positive, lasting behavioral changes to promote the best life and school readiness possible for your child.

Early Intervention Benefits

There are significant benefits to taking action early. Enrolling in services as soon as possible has an enormous impact on your child’s development. Seeking therapy at an early age is acting in the best interest of your child. The effectiveness of early intervention is significant and offers tremendous potential for success across all areas.

Early Intervention and Your Brain

Science shows that a child’s brain rapidly develops between infancy and age three. Neural circuits, or connections, in your child’s brain, are busy laying the foundation for their health, behavior, wellness, and learning. Your child’s experiences, even before reaching the age of three, have a vital impact on the development of their brain. And, as they become older, it becomes more challenging to change the developing connections that have been forming. Replacement of behaviors takes longer and present more difficulty. During your child’s first three years, ABA therapy and positive reinforcement practices can help strengthen their development.

Our highly trained team is here to support your family. We encourage you to reach out with questions and concerns and to learn more about our center. Our team at Blossom Children’s Center will help your child succeed through dedication, knowledge, and years of experience. For additional information on autism, the therapy programs we offer, and educational tools for your family, we invite you to take advantage of our helpful resources today.

One Comment

  1. Pearl Spa July 30, 2020 at 4:11 am - Reply

    Thanks for sharing this very useful information looking forward to the next issue!

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