Archive | August, 2012

Reinforcement: Timing is everything

27 Aug

Research shows that “an imposed delay [in the delivery of reinforcement] will typically render a reinforcer less effective. The more time between the criterion meeting response, and the delivery of the reinforcer, the weaker that reinforcement relation will be.” -Iser DeLeon, PhD BCBA.

What does this mean in plain english?

When reinforcing a behavior, especially at first, it should be immediate. The longer the delay, the less effective the reinforcement. Recall that “reinforcement” is not the same as reward. In order to be a reinforcer, the item/activity/etc. has to increase the future frequency of the behavior. (Read more about reinforcement in my post here).

So when attempting to reinforce a target behavior, the sooner the better. Have the item readily available. If it’s an activity or outing a person is earning, get ready to get up and go as soon as the target behavior occurs. The longer the delay, the weaker the contingency. The child does not associate the reinforcer with the target behavior if the reinforcement is delayed too significantly. Thus, if the child does not associate the target behavior with the attempted reinforcer, they are less likely to repeat that behavior in the future.

A classic example:

Let’s say a child really loves bike rides. Riding his or her bike functions as a reinforcer. But bike rides are an activity; not something you can quickly hand a child, like a piece of candy. If you want to make doing the dishes the target behavior, reinforced by a bike ride, here are some things you’d want to consider:

  • Have the child already in the appropriate shoes, clothing, etc.
  • Have the bike already easily accessible when you go out to the yard
  • Once the last dish is cleaned, immediately take the kid outside, help them get on the bike and go!

If after the last dish was completed you had to help the kid put on socks and shoes, then get the bike out of the garage, then help with the helmet, etc….5 or 10 minutes might pass before the child actually gets on the bike! So the child would not necessarily associate doing the dishes with earning  a bike ride. Additionally, any behavior that occurs between the dish washing and the bike ride may actually be the behavior you end up reinforcing. If the child finishes the dishes, and then during putting on their shoes has a major tantrum, and then they still get the bike ride…you have would have then unwittingly reinforced the tantrum, not the dish washing behavior.

Conclusion: faster is better. The less time between the target behavior and the reinforcement, the less chance you have of mistakenly reinforcing a different behavior. And, the stronger the relationship becomes between the target behavior and the reinforcer.

In hot water over hot sauce

19 Aug

Yahoo! News reported on a teacher who used hot sauce on crayons to deter her autistic student from eating them.

“Lillian Gomez was fired from her job at Sunrise Elementary School in Kissimmee, Fla., in February after school officials found out that Gomez had allegedly put jumbo-sized Crayons in a cup and soaked them for days in hot sauce before moving them to a bag that was labeled with the student’s name.”

The presiding judge ruled in favor of Gomez, and recommended her job be reinstated. (For the full story, click here.)

It’s an interesting story, and the comments from the general public were what really fascinated me. I found a mixture of outrage and support. But, the overwhelming majority defended the teacher and judge. Here are some of the comments on the article:

  • If this was her most creative plan of action she is in the wrong occupation. At the very least consult with the parents first. I am appalled at this teacher and at this judge-SouthernGirl
  • This is sickening!- Mary M
  • I can honestly and truthfully, whole-heartedly say…I hope those of you who think this is a good idea, choke on your words.- Kels
  • My nephew is autistic. If I found out someone did something like this to him, for my sister, I’d go postal on that person!!- Starfirelite79
  • As someone with an autistic relative I think this idea is brilliant.- Nicole
  • Honestly, if my kids were eating crayons, I’d rather them taste something a little spicy rather than ingest a bunch of colored wax.-Moon Pies and Blue Skies
  • It wasn’t punitive at all it was preventative. There is a huge difference between using hot sauce to prevent a choking incident and doing it to punish a child.-AndyShep
  • My son is Autistic and I see nothing wrong with what she did.-71
  • Sounds like she was trying to get the kid to ….. STOP EATING CRAYONS. What the heck is wrong with that??- Boobania
  • So damn if you do damn if you don’t. let the kid eat the crayons get fired, do what she did get fired.-Caliguy
  • I think she did the right thing – because it prevented the child from swallowing colored wax-RandaR
  • Its just hot sauce folks, people are acting like she put rat poison on the crayons.-Jerilyah

I know, at first glance it sounds outrageous and abusive and insane…A teacher putting hot-sauce on crayons…for an autistic kid!?!?!?! But in looking at the whole picture, one can see that she was attempting to make the crayon eating behavior aversive and thereby less reinforcing. She was trying to decrease a maladaptive behavior by making it unpleasant. I don’t think it was an evil or cruel act. I think where she went wrong was not first gaining consent from the parents, school board, etc. She is responsible to follow all ethical guidelines and codes of conduct. But I absolutely think she was trying to do the right thing, and I believe she had the child’s best interest in mind.

Where do you stand on this issue?


18 Aug

Reinforcement is a key component, if not the biggest key, to behavior change procedures.  But, reinforcement is often misunderstood. Everyone has the potential to impact behavior, either knowingly or unknowingly. And, parents have an especially influential role.

First, in order to be a “reinforcer”, the item or activity has to increase the future frequency of the behavior it immediately follows. Next, there are two types of reinforcement: Positive and Negative. No, that does not equate to “good and bad”. Don’t let the terms fool you.

Positive Reinforcement is an added consequence of behavior that increases the future frequency of that behavior. (Adding something to strengthen the behavior)

  • Giving a teen $10 for every A earned on his or her report card. (You add the money in order to increase future frequency of earning As.)

Negative Reinforcement is the removal or avoidance of something that increases the future frequency of that behavior. (Removing something to strengthen the behavior)

  • Scratching your arm when it’s itching. (The scratching behavior removes the itch, thereby making you more likely to scratch future itches)

Some more common examples of Negative Reinforcement that many parents encounter:

  1. A child is given a plate of veggies. The child screams and cries, refusing to eat the vegetables. So the parent removes the plate, and the child does not have to eat them.

In this case, the child’s behavior (screaming) was negatively reinforced (via the removal of the vegetables), thereby increasing the future likelihood of screaming when given vegetables.

2. A child asks for a toy at the toy store. The parent says no, and the child begins tantruming.  The parent, tired of the child’s meltdown, gives in and buys the toy.

In this example, the parent’s behavior (buying the toy) was negatively reinforced (The aversive stimulus, the tantrum, stopped). Now, the parent may be more likely to buy the child what they ask for in the future, in order to avoid or escape the tantum.

****Here’s where it gets tricky…in the above example, there is multiple reinforcing events occuring. The child is positively reinforced for screaming (they scream, they get the toy) , while the parent is negatively reinforced for giving the toy (they give the toy, the screaming stops).

I know, it’s confusing. Plus, we are so engrained with other connotations for the words positive and negative. But just remember that positive is adding something, negative is taking something away. And in order to be reinforcement, it MUST increase the future frequency of the behavior. A “reward” is NOT the same as a reinforcer.

For more information on this topic, please visit the links below:

*All pictures found on Google Images, diagram created by me

The student becomes the teacher

16 Aug

Earlier this week I got distracted and off task during session with one of my clients. He promptly turned to me and quipped:

“Back to business.”

Admittedly, I’ve used that phrase with him a few times before, usually when transitioning from a break back to work. So, I couldn’t help but laugh at his remark. He called me out! And, rightfully so.  🙂


10 Aug

Well…I have my first hater! Does that make me official? Am I initiated into the blogging world?

Apparently my last post was controversial…??

Someone re-posted my last blog entry and criticized my use of Dylan’s picture and name, and alleged that I am exploiting my “son” and setting him up for employment discrimination in the future.

I took time to ponder how my blog might affect Dylan (As I did numerous times before ever creating it). Am I harming him? Will my blog hurt his future? After thoughtful reflection, I decided to message the person…

My reply was simple: I see that you have some strong opinions regarding my blog post. Clearly you didn’t even read my blog, or you’d know that the kid I posted about is my brother, not my son. I’m sorry my post evoked such an intense reaction, and for the discrimination you’ve faced in your life. We are all entitled to our own opinions. And, posting a picture of a 9 year old, with no last name, will not ever prohibit Dylan from getting a job. But his behavioral issues might.

So worth it…

9 Aug

“There’s something about the look in your eyes Something I noticed when the light was just right It reminded me twice that I was alive And it reminded me that you’re so worth the fight”

Following a day of painful reminders of how serious Dylan’s behavioral issues are, and how helpless I feel in making a real difference, I heard this Incubus song on my drive home. This struggle is unrelenting, and endlessly faceted. But, I’ve never forgotten how worth it he is. And I never will.

Siblings- Part 1

6 Aug

In the July/August edition of The Therapist magazine, Dr. Ira Heilveil wrote about the role of a Marriage and Family Therapist in the lives of those affected by autism. He discussed the ways each relationship within the family unit might be impacted.

Dr. Heilveil says siblings may:

-Suffer real or perceived withdrawal of attention from parents

-Engage in maladaptive or excessive “good” behaviors

-Fear that autism is contagious

-Fear that their own children will someday be autistic

-Grieve the brother or sister they wanted to have

-Feel ashamed that their sibling is not like the siblings their friends have

This is one of the many layers within the autism onion: siblings.

For me, there is fear for the future. My parents won’t be around forever, so what then? How will life be for me as a care-taker someday? There is an intense investment in my brother’s progress. The better he does now, the better off things will be then. There is pain, sadness, heartbreak. There is a sense of responsibility; I’m his oldest sibling. I’m trained in ABA. There is confusion. There’s anger when people don’t do right by him. Then there’s anger when his disability overshadows the needs of other family members.  There’s disappointment when others fail him. There’s frustration that I can’t do more to help him. Then there’s frustration when life revolves around him at the expense of other people. There’s pride in his accomplishments. There’s compassion and sensitivity. There’s hope. There’s joy in his affections. There’s just so many things. It’s a complex, tangled ball of emotions.

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