The Role of Reinforcement in ABA – Why is it Important?

Reinforcement is the backbone of applied behavior analysis therapy (ABA). ABA is primarily based on B.F. Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning: the idea that behavior can actually be taught by controlling the consequences of actions. Thus, the initial way teaching is performed is through the use of reinforcement to either increase or decrease the chances of a certain behavior occurring again in a certain situation or conditions. 

Reinforcement is a powerful strategy that is widely used in ABA Therapy Chicago. A reinforcer is anything that a particular child might enjoy as a reward (for instance, praise, hug, some candies, preferred toys, etc.)  These will be provided following the occurrence of good or preferred behavior. As a result, this reinforcement increases the probability of that behavior to repeat or happen again.

In this post, we’re going to highlight the role of reinforcement in ABA so that you can have more targeted therapy goals when you seek or plan to provide treatment. 

Important Attributes of Reinforcement

There are 3 important attributes of reinforcement, which are also referred to as the ABCs of ABA Therapy Chicago:

  • The time between the behavior and the consequence (antecedent) ;
  • The conditions or the situation when the ‘behavior’ occurs; and
  • The motivation present behind the desire of the ‘consequence’.

Let’s explain this with a simple example. A student named Sara is given a homework assignment from school (the antecedent). At home, she completes the assignment promptly (the behavior). As a result, she is allowed to go out and play before dinner (the consequence). This particular reinforcement of being allowed to do something actually will encourage her to continue doing her homework.

Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Reinforcement can be either positive or negative.

In positive reinforcement, A stimulus is presented immediately following the behavior that occurs. Therefore, as a result, the probability of that behavior occurring again in the future increases. For example, upon completing a timed math test, Sara is given candy as a reward.

In negative reinforcement, on the other hand, a stimulus is rather removed immediately following the occurrence of a particular behavior. As a result, the probability of that specific behavior occurring again in the future increases. For example, when Sara first started working on her math timed test, there were too many problems to complete. After every 5 problems she completed, 1 problem was erased.

However, it is important to note that reinforcement only occurs when the behavior increases. This only occurs when the rate of behavior increases.

Why Reinforcement is Important in ABA?

Reinforcement is highly imperative in ABA therapy, due to the numerous benefits it has.

Throughout the ABA therapy, every therapist identifies what behaviors are significant to each child. Once they have identified the areas of growth to target, the ABA therapist will make a plan to teach these new behaviors to the child. Each child’s therapist will also develop an individualized plan tailored to their needs, abilities, skills, and interests.

Encourages Positive Behaviors

Reinforcement plays a crucial role in the operant conditioning process. When used correctly, reinforcement can be an effective learning tool in order to encourage desirable behaviors and discourage undesirable ones. Because children know they will get a reward for acting in a certain way, they will keep repeating that specific desired behavior- which will help them retain more positive habits. Therefore, reinforcement is significantly helpful in encouraging positive and desired behaviors in children.

Helps Minimize or Eradicate Negative Behaviors

Positive Reinforcement helps to minimize negative and undesirable behaviors in children. Children come to realize that when they do something right, they get praise and a reward, whereas if they’re doing something undesirable and negative, they might land in a timeout. Therefore, this teaches children what types of behaviors lead to positive reinforcement, and they begin to learn good habits through this. Moreover, through reinforcement, children are more likely to get rid of the bad and undesired habits for good.

Teaches a Variety of Desired Skills

By teaching and reinforcing communication skills, social skills, and necessary life skills allow each child to thrive in their community and achieve higher in life. With the help of reinforcement, children are able to learn further important skills, such as language, communication skills, improved attention, focus, memory, as well as academics.

Positive reinforcers are a predominant tool in increasing the likelihood of new behaviors being repeated, and also increases the chance they will be long-term.

Motivates Children

These reinforcers are determined by knowing what is most meaningful or motivating to a child, and what they responded well to. As children are constantly growing and learning, positive reinforcement tends to motivate them to do better, and strive to achieve their goals.  Hence, with positive reinforcement, therapists help guide them down a path filled with support and motivation. This way, every child learns to see things in a more positive light, rather than dwelling on the negative aspects.

Boosts Self-Confidence in Children

Children are uncertain how to behave, especially if their actions have gotten them into trouble before. Thus when they get a reward or praise because of their positive behavior, they feel excited. This is because they did something that you are proud of, and children basically want that approval. When you give a child praise for doing something right or desirable, he or she gains more confidence. Praised children, moreover, may also question themselves less and rely more on their own capabilities, and will strive to achieve more in life.

Helps Children Grow and Develop

When it comes to reinforcement, complimenting and praising the actual behavior is crucial. Praising the behavior supports growth and also promotes a sense of self-efficacy in the child. This is because learning new skills is within their own control, and because of reinforcement, these children continue to grow.

Helps Children with Competency and Autonomy

By focusing on a child’s strengths and rewarding their particular behavior, it enables them to practice their strengths, as well as their skills. Meddling or repeated negative discipline can also result in a child feeling incompetent, and also halt any creativity they might have.

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