Reinforcing Your Child’s Behavior

The following information is designed to work with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), but is certainly applicable to all children regardless of their level of development.Children with ASD often have trouble communicating their wants and needs. Their social skills are often poorly developed and they may have sensitivities to sensory stimuli. They often have strong likes and dislikes that may make the use of typical rewards unrewarding.It is important to prepare your child for new and different activities. Children with autism often are resistant to new activities so providing your child the opportunity to learn about the activity, the chance to rehearse the appropriate behavior for the activity, and permission to make reasonable changes in the activity, will help make the new experience a positive one. For example, you have an appointment with the dentist for your child. This will be his/her first visit. How do you prepare for the appointment? Talk with your child about the dentist’s office. What will he/she see, hear, taste, or smell? What is the dentist going to do? By preparing your child, he/she has the opportunity to be prepared.. You will want to talk about the upcoming event repeatedly, prior to the appointment. Make sure you a very specific about the behavior you expect to see from your child. Take the time to do some role playing. You can be the dentist and pretend to clean your child’s teeth. Review the anticipated events and your behavior expectations immediately prior to the scheduled appointment. Once you have explained and practiced the upcoming appointment, determine what the reward will be for appropriate behavior. If you child complies with your behavior requests, what would be a logical reward that would reinforce the behavior? Don’t assume you need to buy something for a reward. Very often there are special items or activities your child is particularly fond of. Maybe allowing him/her to choose the TV program for the family, letting him/her decide what to have for dinner, allowing your child extra time to play with a favored toy, or simply taking time to read a favorite book can provide the rewards you are seeking.When providing a reward for your child it is important that it be immediate. Asking a child (any child) to wait for their reinforcement creates a situation where the activities that occur during the waiting time may be rewarded and not the behavior you wanted to reinforce. You will want to provide a variety of options that you child can choose for their reward. If you choose to use a bigger reward (e.g., movie this weekend, play date with a friend, new toy) you must provide tangible proof that progress toward the reward is made. Perhaps you have promised your child a new toy. Take a picture of the toy and cut the picture into puzzle pieces. As your child complies with your behavior requests, a piece of the puzzle is rewarded. Glue the puzzle pieces on a sheet of paper so he/she can see the progress made toward the reward. Keep the number of pieces low (3-6) so the task doesn’t seem so daunting. As soon as the puzzle is put together, the toy or activity is made available.Be creative and ask your child. He/she knows what they want to receive as their reward. Make sure you listen to their requests.Mika AdamsAutism

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