Ratio Strain

Ratio strain is a term used to describe a situation in which the required amount of work, or response, no longer produces the desired behaviors that were previously produced by lower requirements.

Let’s look at a ratio strain example. You give your daughter $5 for cleaning her room. She does a great job of organizing her belongings and is highly motivated by the $5 reward. Using positive reinforcement is a success. A month later, you pay her the same amount for cleaning her room and your bedroom as well. She agrees to this change and does the work. In the third month, you require her to clean her room, your room, plus the kitchen. She decides she doesn’t care anymore and would rather not have the $5 you would like to give her.

You and your child may experience ratio strain when:

  • a behavior requirement increases too quickly
  • the reward does not increase enough to make additional behavioral requests or work seem worth the effort
  • there is an increase in emotional behavior, as increased behavioral expectations outweigh positive reinforcement

To avoid ratio strain, it is important to plan for gradual changes in behavior. If you note a decrease in the effectiveness of a reward, it may be time to adjust behavioral expectations or increase positive reinforcements to keep your child motivated. When setting behavioral goals, an awareness of ratio strain is the simplest way to prevent it from becoming a problem.

What is Autism?

Heartbreak and Help. No parent is fully prepared for the diagnosis of Autism. Some react with denial, others with fear. Most are confused. “What is Autism?” “Is there a cure?” “ What will our lives be like?” “Why my child?”

Let’s start at the beginning. What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Behavior (ASD) is a disorder that usually appears by age 2 to 3. It cannot be defined in one tidy box but rather in a range of non-norm behaviors that involve social skills, repetitive actions, speech and nonverbal communication, and often difficulty coping with sights, sounds and other sensations. The intensity can be from mild to severe.

It’s overwhelming to realize that life with a child impacted with Austin will be very different than had been expected. Around the clock, a special-needs individual presents many challenges, the biggest of which is making sure your child lives up to his or her potential. What to do? Let’s start with…

A basic toolkit for parents:

  • Learn to be the best advocate you can be for your child. Be informed. Take advantage of services in your community.
  • Feel. Yes, it’s okay to express your feelings – be it anger, grief, or guilt. The key is focusing the pain towards the disorder and not those you love.
  • Do NOT allow autism to take over your life. Create quality time with your loved ones and…
  • Appreciate the small victories your child achieves. Love your special needs child for who he or she is rather than what others think they should be.
  • Get involved with the Autism community. Don’t underestimate the power of “community”, the comfort and support of others who face similar obstacles.

LeafWing Center: For over a decade, LeafWing Center has provided services for individuals with disabilities. We combine the expertise of Behavior Analysts, Marriage and Family Counselors, and Family Therapists, and Behavior Therapists, to help those in need, and their families, to live a fuller life.

The LeafWing Center blog will provide regular features on Autism – ranging from research developments, to treatment methods, to family survival strategies. Our purpose? To let you know you are not alone. Hope is within reach.

Variable Ratio

Used in teaching and proper use of reinforcers, the variable ratio is a way of describing a group of different response-based schedules of reinforcement. For example, the learner’s correct 2nd, then 3rd, then 6th, then 1st responses will be reinforced.  These different response rates (2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 1st) will be labeled as VR-3—the average of the sum of the four rates of responses. Behaviors on a VR schedule tend to show consistent and steady response rates in which the learner does not “pause” after a reinforcer is presented as the next response may produce it. Like VI, the higher the [ratio] requirement, the more the learner will do the behavior.


Used in teaching and proper use of reinforcers, variable interval is a way of describing a group of different time-based schedules of reinforcement. For example, the child’s first correct response will be reinforced after 5 minutes, then after 3 minutes, then after 4 minutes. These different intervals (5 minutes, 3 minutes, and 4 minutes) will be labeled as VI-3—the average of the sum of the three intervals. Behaviors on a VI schedule tend to produce uniform or stable response rates in which larger averages produces somewhat less behaviors.

Verbal vs Non-Verbal

These are very loose terms used by individuals to describe a person that can vocally communicate (“verbal”) and a person that cannot (“non-verbal”).  


VB-MAPP Assessment

Stands for Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program. An assessment and curriculum tool created by Dr. Sundberg. This tool focuses on verbal assessment to get a complete snapshot of verbal abilities, strengths, and deficits. Domains include manding, intraverbals, echoics, etc.

Triennial IEP

Also called triennial assessment or triennial review.   Students who receive special education services must be re-evaluated comprehensively to determine their eligibility for continued special education services three years after the initial eligibility.


May refer to changes from one activity or setting to another such as from an early childhood program to school or from a preferred play activity to a work activity. Transitions are typically very difficult for individuals with ASD, particularly unplanned or surprise transitions.

Token Economy

This is a system of reinforcement in which a learner “earns” conditioned reinforcers such as coins, tickets, or plastic chips to name a few examples immediately after performing a desired behavior. These tokens can be then used to “buy” something that the learner truly wants.


Also called time-out from reinforcers. As the label suggests, this is a consequence in which a person loses some or all opportunities to gain access to reinforcers.  A good way to implement this procedure is removing the person from an area where reinforcement is available (e.g., playground or the living room where the game console is located at) or removing a reinforcer from the person (e.g., taking away the beloved iPad or phone or toy).  Do not implement time-out for escape-based/avoidance-based behaviors as doing so will make things worse.