Teaching Children with Autism, continued
As to the teaching procedures that you will be using: In addition to pairing, you will be learning to strengthen or “reinforce” those behaviours that you want your child to learn, and to not strengthen or “reinforce” those behaviours that you do not want to get, and I will talk about that next,
Remember that reinforcement is a consequence that happens immediately after some behavior and serves to strengthen or “reinforce” that behavior.
Reinforcement can be either
(1) innate / built in / hardwired (which we refer to as primary reinforcement) or
(2) learned (which we refer to as secondary reinforcement).
Examples of primary reinforcement include:
- Food – pieces of cookie, chips, etc.
- Drink – water, pop, juice, etc.
- For some children, sensory stimulation – cuddles, tickles, bouncing, swinging, music, etc.
- For some children, a decrease in sensory stimulation (because some children with autism, who don’t have very good sensory filters, already feel overstimulated).
Secondary reinforcers are learned reinforcers. They come to have their reinforcement value through being paired with something that is already reinforcing (either primary reinforcement or previously-learned secondary reinforcement).
Reinforcement can occur in response to every instance of a behaviour (a continuous reinforcement schedule) or less frequently (an intermittent reinforcement schedule). Moving from a continuous reinforcement schedule to an intermittent one is known as “thinning the reinforcement schedule.” Behaviour that is maintained through intermittent reinforcement is less susceptible to being forgotten/dying out when the reinforcement stops coming regularly (which is referred to as “extinction”) than behaviour that has received only continuous reinforcement. Therefore, once a behavior has been learned, “thin the reinforcement schedule” – gradually move from reinforcing every instance of a behaviour that you want the child to engage in to only reinforcing it occasionally – as opportunity permits (but neither so quickly nor so much that the behaviour you are trying to teach is no longer worth the effort to the child).