Wishing everyone a very happy Friday as we present another post in the Verbal Behavior series! You can read our introductory post here. Today we are going to focus on the Verbal Behavior approach to reinforcement. We recently discussed reinforcement in a previous post, so today’s post is going to go more in depth about effective reinforcers and how to choose them for your child. Again, we used Mary Barbera’s The Verbal Behavior Approach to help us with this post.

As we have said before, reinforcement is so important for children on and off the Autism Spectrum. Everyone responds well to praise and rewards, so it’s a motivation system that makes sense. However, there is always something that is more effective than something else. For example, some children might respond more to being told that they will earn extra iPad time than by just hearing that they did a great job with whatever task they were given. It is important to determine what types of reinforcement are most effective for your child so you can yield the best results.

The most commonly used reinforcer is food. Typically, you can start by using food and incorporating other types of reinforcement, like verbal praise or watching a favorite show. Most children respond the best to food, especially at the beginning of a new behavior program. This shows them that we do recognize the hard work they are doing and that we want them to continue to feel motivated to work. Fading out the food over time will ensure that you are not constantly feeding your child throughout the day, which can be a dangerous precedent. If you do fade it out, make sure it is slowly traded with a reinforcer that is almost equally as motivating as food, such as TV or iPad time.

Choosing the right reinforcer can be difficult, especially if your child gets his/her fill of certain reinforcers quickly. If Johnny has had a ton of chips already, he might grow tired of chips as the day goes on, and will in turn lose motivation to work. That is why it is important to limit the amount of a reinforcer you give at a time. If Johnny has a chance to eat several handfuls of chips after doing some work, he will probably lose motivation to work for chips throughout the day, even though he likes chips. Giving him one or two chips at a time will keep him motivated to work for chips.

We hope you enjoyed this post about Verbal Behavior and reinforcement! Stay tuned for more posts in the Verbal Behavior series and more.

Barbera, M.L., & Rasmussen, T. (2007). The verbal behavior approach: how to teach children with autism and related disorders. London: Jessica Kingsley.