Since motivation is such a challenging problem in the treatment of autism and related pervasive developmental disorders, educators use positive reinforcement to help their students understand what behaviors to continue exhibiting. If an item is delivered immediately following a response, and that response increases in the future, we can re- fer to the reward as a positive reinforcer.
Children on the autism spectrum frequently lack motivation. Since motivation is such a challenging problem in the treatment of autism and related pervasive developmental disorders, educators use positive reinforcement to help their students understand what behaviors to continue exhibiting. The positive reinforcement needs to be meaningful and rewarding to the student. The child has to be motivated enough to want the reward in order to complete a task. If an item is delivered immediately following a response, and that response increases in the future, we can refer to the reward as a positive reinforcer. The use of reinforcement has been recognized as an evidenced based practice by the National Professional Development Center on Autism Disorders.
Reinforcement and Preference Assessments
Information about student preferences for reinforcers can be gathered in three different ways: teachers can do a caregiver interview; direct observation; and/or systematic assessment. Caregiver interview and direct observation methods are easiest for teachers to use.
The caregiver interview is a quick and straightforward technique that can reduce the time and effort needed to gather information. It involves obtaining information from the individual’s parents, friends, and previous teachers. One widely-used survey by Fisher, Piazza, Bowman, & Amari (1996) is the Reinforcement Assessment for Individuals with Severe Disabilities (RAISD). This survey obtains information about potential reinforcers. It also ranks the potential reinforcers in order of preference. Using direct observation involves presenting the individual with free access to items you think he or she will like (i.e. presumed preferences) and recording the amount of time the person engages with the items. The more time spent with an item or activity, the stronger the presumed preference. During these observations, no demands or restrictions are placed on the individual.
The assessment method involves presenting objects and activities systematically to the individual to reveal a hierarchy or ranking of preferences. This method requires the most effort, but it is the most accurate. There are many different preference assessment methods, all of which fall into one of the following formats: single item, paired, and multiple choices. For more information, refer to the book Applied Behavior Analysis (2006) by Cooper, Heron, Heward.
T–TAC Library Resources
Check out the book A Work in Progress by Ron Leaf and John McEachin to see the 15 Rules of Reinforcement, (refer to page 28-35). Material #200421.
Applied Behavior Analysis by Cooper, Heron, & Heward (see full reference below). Material #4050
Cooper, J.O., Heron, T.E., & Heward, W.L. (2006). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Fisher, W.W., Piazza, C.C., Bowman, L.G., & Amari, A. (1996). Integrating caregiver report with a systematic choice assessment. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 101, 15–25.