In this edition of ABA Behind the Scenes, Jami Hardy, MS, RBT, LGPC, will be examining positive and negative reinforcement regarding your child’s behavior.
When we discuss reinforcement in ABA we are talking about increasing behavior as a result of an event that followed the behavior. In other words, we’re more likely to do something again as a result of what happened after. If the behavior doesn’t increase—or we’re no more likely to repeat the behavior—reinforcement hasn’t occurred. Reinforcement isn’t inherently “good” or “bad,” it’s just a description of how behavior changes.
Reinforcement can occur in two ways: positive and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement means something is added following behavior, negative reinforcement means something was removed, and the behavior is then more likely to happen again. Again, positive and negative are not inherently good or bad, just added or removed. For example, if mom provides extra TV time (added activity) when her son washes dishes (behavior), and her son increases how often he helps wash dishes in the future, positive reinforcement has occurred. Negative reinforcement is evident when something is removed, and the behavior increases. For instance, you may witness a student being sent to the principles office after throwing items in class during a math lecture. In this example, the math lecture is an activity the child wants to get out of, and being sent out of the classroom (removal of activity) leads to an increase in throwing items—the student is more likely to throw items in the future to get out of math lectures.
Your BCBA will work with you and your child to determine which behaviors should increase to help your child succeed and whether negative or positive reinforcement is appropriate to obtain those goals. Examples of behavior we want to see increase might be school readiness skills, functional life skills, and appropriate communication. Your child may work on expanding behaviors and skills they already possess, such as requesting things they want or labeling and identifying items in their environment. Other times new appropriate behaviors, such as asking for a break from a difficult task, may be taught and reinforced so they can occur in the future.
|Behavior||What is added/given?||Increase in future behavior|
|John says cookie||Dad gives John cookie||John ask for a cookie after dinner the next day|
|Thomas washes dishes||Mom lets Thomas watch TV for an hour after dinner||Thomas washes dishes every night that week|
|Behavior||What is removed?||Increase in future behavior|
|Michelle throws paper during math lecture (an activity she does not like)||Teacher sends Michelle out of the class||Michelle throws paper the next day during a math lecture|
|Emily swipes peas off the table during dinner||Mom removes remainder of peas from the plate||Emily swipes peas off the table the rest of the week|
If you have questions regarding your child’s behavior, your BCBA will be your best resource. If you’re interested in receiving early intervention services, contact email@example.com to see if there is a provider in your area.
Written by Jami Hardy, MS, RBT, LGPC