Exercise 1 – For Parents

Strategy Examples Use this when…
Use intermittent reinforcement

During the initial stages of learning new behaviors, continuous reinforcement is used to strengthen the correct responses. Afterwards, these behaviors need to be reinforced once in a while in order to maintain. This is how children can verify that these behaviors still bring them benefits.

Imagine that you are teaching your child to wait for you or for his preferred activities. In the beginning, every time the child waits, his behavior is reinforced. After he learned how to wait and he does this in a variety of natural contexts, you can begin to offer the reinforcement once in a while, not after every response. Move from continuous to intermittent reinforcement gradually.

    … you are trying to help the child maintain established behaviors. Maintenance of behavior refers to a lasting change in behavior. 

    Exercise 2 – For Professionals

    Strategy Examples Use this when…
    Free Operant Observations is a procedure used in the attempt to identify potential reinforcers before you begin the teaching process. 

    1)The teacher intentionally sets up a predetermined number of items within sight and reach of the child. He puts on the floor, for example, the items or activities that the child loves the most.


    2) The teacher then observes the child for a predetermined amount of time (eg: 15 min) without interference and record the following on a data sheet during each trial:

    a)Whether the child approaches an item (i.e., reaches out and takes it).

    b)Whether the child engages with the item. For engaging with toys, this might include pushing buttons on the toy, swinging the toy around, or otherwise manipulating the toy. Engagement does not necessarily have to be manipulating the toy as it was intended, but should not include problem behavior (e.g., throwing the toy, breaking the toy).

    c)The duration for which the child plays with the toy (i.e., the amount of time between the child’s approach and rejection of the toy). You may also record the child’s engagement in other activities. For example, you might record the duration of time a child engages in stereotypy, dances to music, or moves into spaces without other children. We don’t typically think of these when we are brainstorming reinforcers, but if these are highly-preferred by the child, they may serve to reinforce target behaviors. For example, a child might get a break from teacher interaction or be allowed to engage in stereotypy contingent on responding.


    3) The teacher continues recording approaches, engagement, and duration of engagement with each item until those 15 min of predetermined observations are over.

    4) At the end of the session, the teacher records items that were within view and/or reach of the child that he or she did not approach. It will be useful for future trial-based Preference Assessments to identify items that may be low-preferred by the child.

    … you are trying to find out which items are likely to be highly-preferred or low-preferred by the child. Discovering the child’s  most preferred items, you know what potential reinforcers you can use in your sessions. This is an appropriate assessment for children who engage in challenging behavior when preferred toys are taken away, because in this procedure items are never removed after selection or engagement.