Step 1. Identifying the Target Skill/Behavior
Define the target skill/behavior in observable and measurable terms.
Step 2. Collecting Baseline Data
- Measure the learner’s use of the target skill/behavior before implementing reinforcement by collecting one of the following:
- Collect baseline data for a minimum of four days before implementing reinforcement.
- Collect baseline data in numerous settings and/or activities.
Step 3. Establishing Program Goals and Performance Criteria
- Establish a program goal for each target skill/behavior that is developmentally and age-appropriate for the learner with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
- Establish at least three different performance criteria for each program goal to monitor learner progress.
Step 4. Identifying Positive Reinforcers
- Consider the age of the learner with ASD.
- Consider the target skill/behavior and natural reinforcers that could be used to teach the skill.
- Observe the learner with ASD in natural settings and identify:
- Identify potential reinforcers by asking the learner what he or she would like to work for (if appropriate).
- Identify potential reinforcers by interviewing other staff and parents to identify reinforcers that have worked in the past.
- Identify potential reinforcers by conducting a reinforcer sampling.
- Complete a reinforcer checklist to identify potential reinforcers.
Step 5. Creating a Reinforcer Menu
- Create a menu of possible reinforcers for the learner with ASD, listed by name (if the learner can read) or by picture.
- Allow the learner with ASD to select a desired object, activity, or food from the reinforcer menu before or after the activity begins.
Step 6. Selecting a Schedule of Reinforcement
- Select continuous reinforcement when a learner with ASD is first learning a target skill/behavior.
- Select an intermittent reinforcement schedule when a learner with ASD has met the initial performance criteria for the target skill/behavior (see Step 3).
Step 7. Implementing Continuous Reinforcement
- Immediately deliver reinforcement each time the learner with ASD uses the target skill/behavior.
- Describe the target skill/behavior after the learner uses it correctly.
- Deliver identified reinforcers only when the learner with ASD uses the target skill/behavior.
- Provide small amounts of the identified reinforcer after the learner with ASD uses the target skill/behavior.
- Pair activity or material reinforcers (e.g., tangible, activity, sensory) with social reinforcement (e.g., praise).
- When using primary reinforcers (e.g., food, drink), also deliver a secondary reinforcer (e.g., praise, sticker, computer time).
Step 8. Preventing Satiation
- Vary reinforcers for a target skill/behavior or use a different reinforcer for each target skill/behavior.
- Teach the target skill/behavior during several short instructional sessions.
- Avoid using edible reinforcers. If they must be used, since they are effective for skill acquisition, use minimally and offer a variety. Food is often discouraged for use as primary reinforcers for several reasons including:
- Food is not a natural reinforcer making generalization more difficult,
- It only works well when the student is hungry for that food,
- Associating work contingencies with food has the potential for the development of mental health or eating disorders,
- Health concerns such as obesity and diabetes with eating too much foods with low nutritional value.
- Shift from using primary to secondary reinforcers as soon as possible.
- If satiation does occur, start using a different reinforcer.
Step 9. Monitoring Learner Progress
- Use progress monitoring data to determine the learner’s mastery of the target skill/behavior.
- As learners with ASD meet performance criteria for a target skill/behavior, move from a continuous reinforcement schedule to intermittent schedules of reinforcement.
- Use progress monitoring data to adjust reinforcement strategies if the target skill/behavior is not increasing.