Positive Reinforcement

Positive Reinforcement
A procedure in which a behavior is followed by an event/item/activity that results in the strengthening of the behavior over time. By definition, the procedure MUST have the anticipated strengthening effect on the behavior for the intervention to be considered positive reinforcement. Much like positive punishment in which the “punisher” or punitive stimulus can be anything, the same goes for positive reinforcement. Smiles, candies, high-fives, “Good job!” and tokens can be reinforcers. Reprimands, time-outs, and losing a token can also be reinforcers. Again, this is another very important concept so it is recommended that you discuss this topic with your BCBA.

How Positive Reinforcement is Used Today

  • parents use it with their children to encourage them to do chores
  • teachers use it with their students to increase time-on-task
  • employers use it with their employees to encourage them to be at work on time or to increase productivity
  • clinicians use it with their patients/clients to increase desired target behaviors

There are 5 different reinforcement schedules to choose from (Positive Psychology):

  • Continuous schedule: the behavior is reinforced after every occurrence (this schedule is hard to keep up since we are rarely able to be present for each occurrence).
  • Fixed ratio: the behavior is reinforced after a specific number of occurrences (e.g., after every three times).
  • Fixed interval: the behavior is reinforced after a specific amount of time (e.g., after three weeks of good behavior).
  • Variable ratio: the behavior is reinforced after a variable number of occurrences (e.g., after one occurrence, then after another three, then after another two).
  • Variable interval: the behavior is reinforced after a variable amount of time (e.g., after one minute, then after 30 minutes, then after 10 minutes).

The success behind Positive Reinforcement

  • Schedule
  • Immediately
  • Individualized

Type of Reinforcers

  • Edibles (fruit, popcorn, goldfish)
  • Activities (art project, puzzles, reading a book)
  • Tangible (clothing, toys, notebook)
  • Social (praise, smiles, thumbs-up)
  • Tokens (collect tokens to exchange for computer time, no homework, lunch with the teacher)

Don’t be confused between Positive Reinforcement and bribery.
Remember: Bribery is used to stop negative behavior. Positive Reinforcement rewards positive behavior.

Positive Words

  • Good Job
  • You Rock
  • Well Done
  • Thumbs Up
  • You’re the man
  • Way to go

The counterpart is Negative Reinforcement.

Negative Reinforcement

Negative Reinforcement

Negative Reinforcement

Negative reinforcement is a response or behavior that is strengthened by

  • Stopping
  • Removing
  • Reducing
  • Or Postponing a negative outcome or punishment.

This procedure often involves the removal of “something” that the person does not like and is defined by its anticipated strengthening effect on the behavior. For example, when Johnny is given a task, he starts whining and more instructions for him to start working on his task will lead to tantrums. Once tantrums are present, his teacher gives him a time-out in the corner of the classroom. In this scenario, the negative reinforcer is the removal of required work (in the form of a time-out) while the behavior being strengthened is the tantrum. Negative reinforcements will turn into learned behaviors that can constitute good or bad behavior based on creating a favorable outcome.

Three types of Negative Reinforcement Contingencies

  • Escape Contingency: allows the person to escape an experience.
  • Avoidance Contingency: allows a person to behave in a way that prevents or delays an experience.
  • Free-operant Avoidance: the avoidance behavior happening at any time.

Examples of Negative Reinforcement:

Drying Wet Hands (Escape Contingency)

  • Before: hands are wet.
  • Behavior: rub them on the towel.
  • After: water is gone from hands.
  • Future Behavior: To rub hands on the towel when hands are wet.

Screaming! (Avoidance Contingency)

  • Before: broccoli on the plate.
  • Behavior: screaming.
  • After: broccoli is no longer on the plate.
  • Future Behavior: Will scream until broccoli is removed from the plate.

Lotion hands (Free-operant avoidance)

  • Before: hands are dry and itchy.
  • Behavior: lotion hands.
  • After: hands are moist and soft.
  • Future Behavior: keeps lotion on hands from being dry.

What Negative Reinforcement is not

Negative reinforcement is not to be confused with positive reinforcement and negative punishment. It does not reinforce negative behavior.

Negative and positive reinforcement are both geared toward the same result – the desired behavior. However, negative reinforcement does it by removing a factor and positive reinforcement does it by adding a factor.

The counterpart is Positive Reinforcement.

Sensory Integration

Sensory Integration

Sensory Integration

Sensory integration refers to different strategies or techniques used to meet, raise, or lower internal sensory needs. Sensory integration therapy is used to help children learn to use all their senses together. From a very young age, babies will keep engaging their senses to learn about the world around them. This is all part of development. It’s claimed that this therapy can improve challenging behavior or repetitive behavior. These behaviors can be related to difficulties with processing sensory information.

The 5 known senses are:

  • Sight (Vision)
  • Hearing (Auditory)
  • Smell (Olfactory)
  • Taste (Gustatory)
  • Touch (Tactile)

2 Additional Senses:

  • Vestibular (Movement): the movement and balance sense, which gives us information about where our head and body are in space. Helps us stay upright when we sit, stand, and walk.
  • Proprioception (Body Position): the body awareness sense, which tells us where our body parts are relative to each other. It also gives us information about how much force to use, allowing us to do something like crack an egg while not crushing the egg in our hands.

Sensory integration focuses primarily on three basic senses–tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive.

Tactile / Touch

Tactile defensiveness is a condition in which an individual is extremely sensitive to light touch. Theoretically, when the tactile system is immature and working improperly, abnormal neural signals are sent to the cortex in the brain which can interfere with other brain processes.

Signs of a dysfunction in the tactile

  • withdraws from being touched
  • refuses to eat certain ‘textured’ foods
  • refuses to wear certain types of clothing
  • complains about having one’s hair or face washed
  • avoids getting one’s hands dirty (i.e., glue, sand, mud, finger paint)
  • uses one’s fingertips rather than whole hands to manipulate objects

Vestibular / Movement

The vestibular system refers to structures within the inner ear (the semi-circular canals) that detect movement and changes in the position of the head.

Signs of a dysfunction in the vestibular system

  • fearful reactions to ordinary movement activities (e.g., swings, slides, ramps, inclines)
  • excessive body whirling, jumping, and/or spinning called hypo-reactive vestibular system

Proprioceptive / Body Position

The proprioceptive system refers to components of muscles, joints, and tendons that provide a person with a subconscious awareness of body position.

Signs of proprioceptive disorder

  • falling when you walk across uneven surfaces
  • don’t understand your own strength
  • uncoordinated movement, such as finding it hard to walk straight
  • balance issues, which can lead to problems when you walk up or down stairs or cause you to fall easily

How effective are sensory integration therapies?

Evaluation and treatment of basic sensory integrative processes are performed by occupational therapists and/or physical therapists. The therapist’s general goals are:

  1. to provide the child with sensory information which helps organize the central nervous system,
  2. to assist the child in inhibiting and/or modulating sensory information, and
  3. to assist the child in processing a more organized response to sensory stimuli.

Although there are scientific studies to show that children with ASDs are more likely to have sensory-processing problems, the effectiveness of sensory integration therapy as a therapy for ASDs is limited and inconclusive.

Additional Information

Incidental Teaching

Incidental teaching

Incidental teaching is a strategy that uses the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA) to provide structured learning opportunities in the natural environment by using the child’s interests and natural motivation. Incidental teaching is used when trying to enhance language and behavior skills. Incidental teaching is typically used with children aged 2-9 years, but it’s suitable for people of any age who are autistic or have developmental delays. Incidental teaching helps children find their inner voice.

Steps to Incidental Teaching

  • Follow the child’s lead: To make the most of this method, it is important for the adult to understand the child, their natural behavior, and their interests. Use the toy they are interested in to teach colors instead of taking the toy away and using flashcards of color instead.
  • Attention: Make sure you have the child’s attention otherwise you will not likely get a response from the child and your efforts will be for not. It is important to get down to eye level and be face to face this way the child will know that something is expected.
  • Create the Right Environment: Use props, materials, and activities that will prompt the child to initiate conversation. Make sure that these materials and activities are of interest to the child. Then place the items out of reach. This will create an opportunity where the child will have to communicate verbally or nonverbally to request the item that they are desiring. When the object is out of reach then this forces the child to ask the adult for help to get the object they are wanting like a toy or a book.
  • Time Delay: Let the child be the one to initiate the request. Interactions are started by the child, not by the adult.
  • Model Correct Response: If the child does not initiate, the adult will then help by modeling the correct response by saying the word of the of object the child wants like “Book?”. Another method is to provide the child with nonverbal cues such as pointing to an object to help the child initiate a move. This method tends to be the most effective for children with autism.
  • Offer Positive Reinforcement: When the child responds correctly, reward them with access to the object or activity that is being requested. Hand them the book that they want.

Benefits of Incidental Teaching

Putting the responsibility on the child, allows them to develop their inner voice and not be a bystander. The adult is guiding the child to take their first step in learning. Once the child feels comfortable with their language skills then this will allow them to start interacting more with their peers. This will encourage them to adapt and communicate their needs in various settings which will help them implement their newly gained knowledge and skills.

Self Injurious Behavior

Self-injurious behavior (SIB)

Self Injurious Behavior

Self-injurious behavior (SIB) involves the occurrence of behavior that could result in physical injury to one’s own body. Self-injurious behaviors are normally nonsuicidal self-injury that is a harmful way to cope with emotional pain, intense anger, and frustration such as:

  • Self-cutting (cuts or severe scratches with a sharp object)
  • Self-scratching
  • Burning (with lit matches, cigarettes, or heated, sharp objects such as knives)
  • Carving words or symbols on the skin
  • Self-hitting, punching, or head banging
  • Piercing the skin with sharp objects
  • Inserting objects under the skin
  • Self-choking
  • Self-biting like of one’s own hand
  • Hair pulling
  • Hand mouthing
  • Picking at the skin or scabs

However, SIB can result in more severe injuries such as blindness, broken bones, or even death.

Signs and symptoms of self-injury may include:

  • Scars, often in patterns
  • Fresh cuts, scratches, bruises, bite marks or other wounds
  • Excessive rubbing of an area to create a burn
  • Keeping sharp objects on hand
  • Wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather
  • Frequent reports of accidental injury
  • Difficulties in interpersonal relationships
  • Behavioral and emotional instability, impulsivity, and unpredictability
  • Statements of helplessness, hopelessness, or worthlessness

Why do children resort to Self- injurious Behavior?

It tends to happen as a result of gaining attention or access to a preferred toy or activity. Self-injury also occurs to escape from or avoid low preferred activities such as activities of daily living (e.g., brushing teeth) or academic demands. It may even be because of poor coping skills or difficulty managing their emotions.

SIB is displayed by 10 to 15 percent of individuals with intellectual disabilities and is more common in children with ASD. The function(s) of the SIB must be identified before a proper behavior plan can be developed. Behavioral interventions have been demonstrated to be effective in treating self-injury.

Let Leafwing help to devise a plan to help address Self- injurious Behavior in your child.

ABA therapy learner

Applied Behavior Analysis Therapist

Applied Behavior Analyst Therapist

Typically, an ABA therapist’s job includes implementation of the Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP), skill-building lessons (these are commonly called “programs” in the field of ABA), and engaging in play with the learner. Their approach depends on the need of the individual.

Synonymous labels for ABA Therapist

“ABA Therapist” is just one of the many ways to label professionals working directly with clients or students.  The label we use at the LeafWing Center is Behavior Technician (BT). Other labels used are 1:1s, paraprofessionals, tutors, behavior therapists, shadows, and behavior interventionists to name a few. The label used depends on the agency/company/school/institution providing direct ABA services.  Regardless of the label, these individuals work under the supervision of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) or Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctoral (BCBA-D).

The foundation of ABA Therapy

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is an evidence-based scientific technique used in treating individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities. In general, ABA therapy relies on the respondent and operant conditioning to change or alter behaviors of social significance. ABA therapy differs from behavior modification in that ABA therapy changes behavior by first assessing the functional relationship between a particular or targeted behavior and the environment. The ultimate goal of ABA therapy is for the learner to gain independence by learning and developing new skills resulting in an increase in positive behavior while reducing the frequency of negative behaviors.

Additional Articles

Acquisition Task

Acquisition Task

Acquisition Task

A behavior or a skill that is still not part of a child’s repertoire. A Skill Acquisition Plan is put together after your child has been evaluated by the BCBA. The plan can focus on certain types of skill sets:

  • Motor Skills – holding a utensil or pencil to help with writing.
  • Communication Skills – vocal speech, devices, sign language, etc.
  • Functional Skills – potty training, bathing, cooking, dressing, etc.
  • Academic Skills – teaching letter identification to help with reading later on.
  • Social Skills – small talk, sharing, group play, expressing emotions, etc.

An acquisition task is actively taught to a learner until it is learned. Acquiring skills is very important. They help us improve our way of thinking, problem-solving, and the quality of our lives.

What is included in a skill acquisition plan?

A skill acquisition plan includes a description of the target skill being taught, materials needed for teaching, strategies to be used, the consequences for correct or incorrect responding, mastery criteria, reinforcement strategies, and a plan for generalization and maintenance.

Example of stages that occur when learning a new skill.

Skill acquisition uses three stages:

  1. The Cognitive stage – is the understanding of what to do
  2. The Associative stage – is learning how to perform the skill
  3. The Autonomous stage – is when the skill becomes automatic

Everyone goes through these stages when learning. A child with autism might need a little extra repetition to learn a particular skill set.

Questions About Behavioral Functions


Questions About Behavioral Functions

Stands for Questions About Behavioral Function. This is a 25-item, indirect rating assessment tool co-developed by John Matson and Vollmer and is used to assess the function of a target behavior. Individuals with ASD have a higher tendency to have challenging behaviors. Some of the behaviors can hinder the development of the individual. The QABF can be used to target some of the challenging behaviors.

The QABF can be easily administered and assessed for the following five-factor functions:

  • attention
  • escape
  • physical
  • tangible
  • non-social

Items are scored on two dimensions: occur/does not occur/does not apply, and on severity (rarely, some, and often). In the original Administrator’s Manual (Matson & Vollmer, 1995), the authors stated that a clear function is indicated when there is a score of at least 4 on a factor and when no other factor has a score higher than 3.

This questionnaire has a long-standing validity and reliability as an assessment tool for individuals dealing with intellectual disability and/or autism. As the number of individuals with ASD grows so does the need for solutions to guide them with the necessary support to be able to function at their full potential within our society.

The QABF can be completed and scored in 20 minutes. See a sample of the QABF.

Additional Assessment Tools:

  • Ages and Stages Questionnaires (ASQ)
  • Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales (CSBS)
  • Parents’ Evaluation of Developmental Status (PEDS)
  • Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (MCHAT)
  • Screening Tool for Autism in Toddlers and Young Children (STAT)
Restitutional Overcorrection

Restitutional Overcorrection

Restitutional OvercorrectionA form of positive punishment in which a child is required to repair the damage caused by their behavior or return the environment to its original state and then have the child perform extra actions to make the environment “better” than it was prior to the misbehavior.

Examples of Restituational Overcorrection:

  • After throwing a few chairs in the classroom during a tantrum, the student is later required to not just place the chairs he had thrown back to where they were before the tantrum but also make sure that all the chairs in the classroom are lined up properly.
  • If the student throws a book on the floor in the library, they might be required to reshelve all the books that have been left out in order to punish the book-throwing behavior.

There are three different types of overcorrection procedures

  1. Positive practice: This is the most often used method of overcorrection for ABA therapy. Positive Practice Overcorrection is used after misbehavior occurred, then performs the “correct form” of the behavior repeatedly to practice the correct behavior for the situation to reinforce the appropriate response to a situation or stress.
  2. Negative practice: In this original form of overcorrection therapy, the child with autism would be told to repeatedly display the wrong behavior while verbally stating that this behavior is inappropriate. In theory, performing the maladaptive behavior repeatedly would increase the child’s aversion, and they would begin to see the behavior more as a punishment.
  3. Restitutional: The child would be required to return to the original space where the disorderly behavior took place and then perform the appropriate behavior instead of the disorderly behavior.

In the context of ABA therapy for children with autism, positive practice overcorrection has become the main focus. Positive reinforcement works best for people with developmental disorders who need support learning to adjust behaviors.

Extinction Burst

Extinction burst

Extinction Burst

Extinction burst is used to describe the increase in intensity or rate of a behavior when the behavior no longer results in the usual reinforcer that maintains it over time. For example, an extinction burst is when the child’s hitting no longer results in a cookie so they retort to stronger hits, and/or screaming, and/or crying, et cetera. It is important for contingency managers (e.g., parents, teachers, professionals) do not “give in” during these bursts.

Extinction is frequently used to target or reduce interfering behavior such as:

  • screaming
  • tartrums/crying
  • excessive scratching/picking

Extinction may not eliminate the behavior in every situation, so it’s not always the best choice of behavioral intervention especially if it involves harming oneself or someone else.

Steps to constructing ABA Extinction Procedure Plan

  1. Identify the interfering behavior
  2. Identify the data collection measures and baseline data
  3. Determine the function of the behavior
  4. Create an intervention plan

How to manage Extinction Burst

  • Be Strong. The adult working with the child should not give in or reinforce the problematic behaviors that occur during an Extinction Burst.
  • Stay Consistent. Don’t deviate. The adult needs to teach the child a new replacement behavior.
  • Be Patient. The change will not happen overnight. The adult needs to reinforce the new replacement behavior as the appropriate behavior for the child to get wants and needs met.
  • Be Prepared. Know how you plan to address the problematic behavior so it does not repeat itself.

Children who are on the spectrum tend to participate more in outbursts because they tend not to know how to use their words to get what they want and the outbursts, even though it is an inappropriate method of communication, it got them what they wanted or needed in the past.

It is important to get everyone on board that is in your child’s circle to follow and execute the same way for the change to be successful. The good news is that Extinction Burst will decrease more rapidly if the adult handles it calmly and effectively. The child will start to learn what is the appropriate behavior through the ABA therapy program. It is known that what is learned can be unlearned. A child can learn to use their words instead of throwing a tantrum to get what they want.