What Is Positive Reinforcement in ABA Therapy for Autism Treatment?

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is the act of rewarding a specific behavior to create repetition and eventually stable patterns. It’s a core concept in autism treatment.

If that doesn’t quite make sense to you right now, please don’t worry. We are going to spend the rest of this article walking through some of the key concepts at work in that definition. By the end, you should have a good understanding of this critical underpinning of ABA therapy for autism.

Behavior Examined

“ABA” stands for “applied behavior analysis“. It makes sense that this method of treatment would look very closely at behavior, and indeed it does.

Behaviors are the things we do. They are the interactions we perform with each other and with the physical world in general. For example, you are currently enacting the complex behavior of reading this article.

ABA therapy looks at behaviors on a much finer and more contextualized level than is common in everyday life. Where parents might see a tantrum, an ABA therapist would see a string of stimuli and behaviors that possibly form a causal chain of events.

Targeting Behaviors

That brings us to our next point, which is targeting behaviors with ABA therapy. A necessary prerequisite for positive reinforcement is to identify a specific target.

The goal is to be as precise as possible. We want to create a link between a reward and a specific behavior a child performs, so we must plan and time our own reward-giving behavior carefully.

This type of targeting depends on the accurate analysis of behavior patterns as well as the clear definition of treatment goals. For this reason, it is important that every ABA treatment plan is tailored specifically to the child undergoing treatment.

Every child has a different developmental profile and benefits from different prioritization strategies. Additionally, every family has different goals for outcomes of ABA treatment. Luckily, ABA is personalized by default — and the practice is based on constant monitoring of progress and adjustment of plans.

Repeating and Reinforcing

Rewarding a behavior once has little effect. Twice, and someone might remember. Consistent reward, however, often forms a clear association between a positive outcome and target behavior.

This is a very common and natural way to learn basic skills and habits. However, ABA is much more analytical, strategic, and systematic than what we might consider “natural” learning.

If Positive Reinforcement Is Natural Do You Need ABA Therapy?

We need ABA because it is often necessary to heavily modify generic learning processes when teaching children with autism. For example, many children often need a high level of engagement to engender the imitative or guided behaviors integral to the learning processes. In other words, if you cannot elicit positive behavior in the first place, there is no way to use positive reinforcement to create a pattern.

There are many other challenges, all of which ABA seeks to address. Unfortunately, many of these differences and subtleties tend to make enacting a positive reinforcement strategy a struggle for someone who is not specifically trained in ABA.

Contact Our Autism Treatment Center Today

There are many specific ways to use positive reinforcement in a clinical setting, but now you understand the basic foundation on which many of our practices were built. To learn more, or to enroll your child in ABA therapy in Phoenix, please feel free to contact us today.