Sunday, March 3, 2013

Principles of Reinforcement

Reinforcers – in a nutshell, are necessary and effective when used correctly.  A common misconception is that reinforcement is bribery.  This is only true if used incorrectly.

Reinforcement is defined as an event that follows a behavior, which increases that behavior.

We all respond to reinforcement, or the lack of it.  We go to work, because we get a paycheck.  We clean the house because we enjoy the results.  In the absence of reinforcement, the behaviors that have usually produced them decrease.  I love my job, but if I didn't get paid to do it, I'd do it less, and other behaviors that did produce reinforcement (pay) would increase.

But reinforcement for children in therapy situations does not have to look like a trainer holding a Scooby snack in front of a dog, saying, "sit" (translate that picture into a teacher and a child sitting perfectly at a table, with the teacher delivering an endless stream of instructions and m&ms).  There are many different ways to deliver reinforcement effectively, such as variation in frequency and type. 

Another big idea -- reinforcers don’t have to be treats.  Sometimes an exaggerated “woo hoo”, high five, tickle or hug is all it takes.  The most effective reinforcement system depends on each child’s abilities and interests.  You need to know what is most interesting and desirable for the child, and remember that this can change, sometimes quickly.

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