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Reinforcement is any item, activity, or social response (example: food, drink, toy, a special activity, attention, hug, praise) that make the chance for the behavior to happen again or what we like to call strengthening behavior. However, things that are “typically” reinforcing to many children might not be reinforcing to a child with ASD. This may require thinking creatively about what a reinforcer for your child can be.

Behavior analytic literature teaches us that there are five types of reinforcers.

1. Primary reinforcers-

Behavior analysts refer to reinforcers that typically involve food or drinks.

2. Social Reinforcers

Literature defines this as reinforcers that involve social interactions such as hugs, praise, high-fives, or any kind of social interaction.

3. Tangible reinforcers

This is what we like to call reinforcers that involve enjoyable items such as a small prize or a favorite toy.

4. Activities/Privileges

BCBAs refer to reinforcers that include fun and enjoyable activities such as going to the park, riding a scooter, a special game, or one-on-one time with mom.

5. Tokens

Tokens are points, checks in a chart or small color paper cut into shapes. The child saves up these tokens exchanges them for prizes. Tokens are good reinforcers as they help keep the momentum in therapy and do not cause much disturbance while receiving and teach your child skills such as the concept of money.

Tokens should only be used with children who are able to wait for a reinforce. However,  they only should be used once the child can understand the connection between the token and the prize they are exchanging it for.

How to identify reinforcers for your child.

Items that are “typically” reinforcing to many children might not be reinforcing to a child with ASD. Because of this, this may require thinking creatively about what an effective reinforcer for your child can be.

Here are some ideas to learn how to figure out what works best for your child.

1. Ask your child what he or she would like to work towards. This works for children who’s communication skills are strong enough to express this.

2. Talking with others who know your child well. For example, speak to his teachers or therapists to find out what they find helpful with your child.

3. Holding up some reinforcement options and then looking at what your child chooses. You can show him icons of different options or use a pecs board to work on this.

4. Watching the child and take note of what he or she does when given free time. We call this a free operant preference assessment in behavior analytic terms.

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