Positive reinforcers are rewards used in ABA for correct responses in learning a skill or compliance. A reward given after a desired response or behaviour will help to increase that behaviour. Reinforcement ALWAYS increases behaviour (good and bad). While reinforcing with a tangible item (something edible such as food or something concrete like a toy or a treat) be sure to pair with verbal praise and social treats, such as tickling (social reinforcers) so your child learns these are also good things. This will help in fading the tangible reinforcers, which should be done as quickly as possible.
Types of postive reinforcement:
Tangible: foods, drinks, objects, tokens, stickers, certificates and money. When frequent trials are required, keep food and drink amounts very small to enable more opportunities for practice before the child has had enough.
Activity: favourite games and activities (biking, book, music, TV, toys, free time). When frequent trials are required, keep the activity time to a few minutes to help maintain interest in the activity.
Social: praise in the form of words (verbal), physical contact, or gestures (examples: “nice quiet voice”, hugs, pats on the back, smiles, and thumbs up). Social rewards are very effective as they can be given immediately and in any location.
REMEMBER, a reinforcer will help a child learn undesirable behaviours as well as it can help to learn desirable behaviours. If your child is having a tantrum in the store because he or she wants a toy, your response to the situation is important. If you get “worn down” and give in, you are reinforcing that negative behaviour and your child has learned that tantrums gets rewarded.
There is also negative reinforcement, which is to take away something that the child does not like. For example, “You may leave class after circle time”. The reward for staying during circle time is that the child may leave the room (which is what he wants). Remember that “time-out” is often not an effective strategy for children with ASD. If your child has a tantrum during circle time and is removed from the classroom, he or she will be reinforced for the tantrum behaviour if that is what they wanted all along because they have “escaped the demand”. They have learned that when they want out of the classroom, they just need to tantrum. Time-out only works if it is “time-out” from a situation the child finds reinforcing; most children with ASD do not enjoy group activities and would prefer to be left alone.
Negative reinforcement can also simply be the lack of feedback or positive reinforcement when a skill is incorrect (for example, withholding praise or tangible/edible reinforcer). An effective way to handle a tantrum is to ignore the behaviour if it is attention-seeking, however, never ignore self injurious, aggressive or destructive behaviour. It is important to seek professional advice on how to handle this type of troubling conduct. Additionally, if there appears to be a change in your child’s basic personality (such as new or even more challenging behaviours) it is prudent to get a full physical examination performed (include a trip to the dentist) to rule out illness or discomfort.
In conclusion, positive reinforcement adds something desirable to the environment; negative reinforcement removes something undesirable from the environment. Both can be rewards for completing a desired task, and they both increase the probability of that the behaviour occurring again.