Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a spectrum of neurodevelopment conditions characterized by problems in social relationships and communication skills. People with ASD have unusually narrow interests and repetitive behavior. They find difficulties in coping with unexpected changes in routines and environment.
The possible causes of autism include a genetic susceptibility interacting with prenatal and postnatal environmental factors. These genetic variations change the pattern of brain development. The symptoms of ASD are evident from infancy.
Various therapies and interventions can help people with autism improve their abilities and reduce symptoms.
Current treatment therapies for autism spectrum disorder(ASD) reduce symptoms that interfere with daily functioning to enhance the quality of life.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises you to commence treatment therapies as soon as you find the child has autism symptoms. The diagnosis can take time.
Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder
Many types of treatment therapies are available to reduce the symptoms of ASD. Some of them are:
- Complementary and Alternative
Behavioral therapies target changing problem behaviors. Behavioral approaches have the most evidence for reducing symptoms of ASD. During implementation of treatment, the therapist finds what happens before and after the behavior.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the most commonly used behavioral treatment in ASD. It encourages desired behaviors and discourages undesired behaviors. ABA helps improve a variety of skills. Therapists track and measure the progress to assess the effectiveness.
There are different types of therapies that are based on the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA). These therapies use scientific interventions to address behavioral needs in people with ASD. Positive reinforcement is one of the vital principles of ABA that health professionals use in ASD.
We will see how positive reinforcement helps treat the symptoms of ASD and improve the quality of life in people with ASD.
What is Positive Reinforcement?
Reinforcement is the procedure of using a reinforcer that increases the rate of behavior. It is an effective behavior management strategy that deals with challenging behaviors of people with autism. It helps autistic people in learning new skills and behaviors.
Positive reinforcement is an incentive. You give reinforcement to a person with ASD who follows some request for behavior change. It is a critical element in bringing any behavior change. Positive reinforcement is given immediately after the desired behavior has occurred to shape the future behavior.
In reinforcement, a reinforcer is any activity, stimulus, or event that follows a behavior and increases the frequency of that behavior. Reinforcer strengthens the behavior.
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- Positive and Negative Reinforcement
Reinforcement is either positive or negative.
- Positive reinforcement
Positive reinforcement enriches a person’s experience by adding something. Positive reinforcement doesn’t take away something but adds something to change behavior. It makes positive reinforcement quite effective. Positive reinforcement is a great tool to increase good behavior through rewards.
The two types of positive reinforcers are:
- Primary reinforcers
- Secondary reinforcers
1.Primary reinforcers are the ones that are often naturally reinforcing.
Example: sleep, food, or water.
The secondary reinforcers are those that the person with ASD must learn. They are developed over time and vary from person to person.
- praising the student through appreciation of work
- Money is a potent secondary reinforcer
When you pair primary reinforcers with other items to form a new secondary reinforcer is often helpful. When you praise a student and say “Well done” and give the student a small toy, the words “Well done” becomes reinforcing to the student over time. The student will no longer need a toy as a primary reinforcer.
Sometimes students may have limited activities or items as positive reinforcers. It may be helpful if you expose them to new items and activities. If a student observes something and experiences things happening around that seem to be of interest to a student helps in identifying a reinforcer.
Reinforcement is a fundamental practice. You always use reinforcement with other evidence-based practices like time delay, prompting, and functional communication training.
Positive reinforcement is a strategy that teaches new skills as a replacement behavior for an interfering behavior. Positive reinforcement increases appropriate behaviors and provides a much better teaching and learning opportunity for people with ASD.
Some of the considerations for the effective use of positive reinforcement are:
- Do not bribe the person with ASD. Bribery is something you offer before accomplishing a task, whereas you give reinforcement after the job.
- Decrease reinforcement over time. The goal is to help children complete a task without enticement. Decreasing reinforcers will get you there.
- You should offer a reward of a reasonable magnitude.
2. Negative reinforcement
Negative reinforcement is removing activity or objects aversive to the learner with ASD. Removal of the aversive stimulus is the goal of negative reinforcement. It increases the use of the target skill or behavior.
Negative reinforcement is an increase in the future frequency of a behavior by removing a stimulus.
For example: To turn off an annoying song whenever the learner of ASD asks. Turning off the radio is the removal of the stimulus. It increases the asking behavior of the child.
Customized or individualized reinforcement is most effective. It should be presented to the person with ASD in response to a learner’s use of the target skill or behavior. The goal is to increase skills gradually, decreasing the reinforcement strategies.
- Frequency of reinforcement
It is critical to understand how frequently to use the reinforcement for the person with ASD. Frequent use of reinforcers may tire the autistic person, and reinforcers will eventually lose effectiveness. A proper schedule should be in place for the implementation of reinforcement.
- How to Use Positive Reinforcement
The steps for using reinforcement are:
- First, identify the desired behavior. Then, choose an observable and measurable behavior.
- Pick a reinforcer by observation, interview, or the reinforcer checklist.
- Use reinforcer on the desired behavior. Use a reinforcer on the schedule after the desired behavior occurs.
An activity, food, or objects which may be pleasant and act as a reinforcer to one person may not be a reinforcer to another. Moreover, frequent use of reinforcement may render reinforcement ineffective.
- When to Use Reinforcement
Use reinforcement when you want to increase or maintain a specific behavior. Reinforcers help increase the frequency of the desired behavior occurring again in a similar environment and situation.
It is convenient to use reinforcement anytime and anywhere, as per predestined schedule. You can use it at home, school, or any other environment.
- Choosing Positive Reinforcers
Each individual with ASD responds to different things. Consider the following when choosing positive reinforcers.
- Refer to the habits of the person with ASD and consider what has motivated them in the past
- Find out the likes and dislikes of the person with ASD
- Study the deprivation state, what they want and what they cannot get easily
- Ensure the reinforcer is practical and ethical. It should be valid for the targeted behavior.
Examples of positive reinforcement:
- Words and phrases of verbal praise
- Activities that the person prefers, like, playing with friends, a specific job, and coffee with a friend.
- Free playing time
- Preferred food items
- Affordable desired objects
- Prizes, gifts, offers as token of appreciation
You can also use positive attention reinforcement by:
- Leaning, hugging, or looking at the person
- Asking a question, talking, and making a comment
- Participating in an activity
Timing is a critical factor in determining the effectiveness of positive reinforcement. The individual should believe that the target goal is achievable and the behavior is attainable.
The person with ASD should not have free access to the reinforcer. Do not give the person free access as per the desire when setting amounts of positive reinforcement. Let the person with ASD work towards something.
Make sure that the reinforcer is continual and enhanced. Maintain a record for the autistic to note the progress like ticks on a behavior performance chart.
- Rules for Using Positive Reinforcement
- Reward the person whenever the target behavior occurs
- Fade reinforcers quickly. Reduce the reinforcer as the desired behavior emerges
- Combine edible or playful reinforcers with verbal appreciation
- Finally, give only verbal praise to the person with ASD, who will accept your pleasure as a reinforcer
- Have patience and do not lose temper if the person throws tantrums
- Keep the requests clear for the desired behavior
The implementation of reinforcement procedures needs time and careful consideration to facilitate skill acquisition. A reinforcer is effective if the target behavior increases or is maintained after the skill is acquired. The reinforcement must be customized for each person with ASD. The therapist should have a range of reinforcers at their disposition.