This post is a little technical. I tried to make it as easy to read as possible, but I am having trouble.
In ABA teaching with children with Autism, teaching of new skills needs to be done with a understanding of basic behaviour. Most teaching of new skills is done with re-inforcers, (something a child wants). There are two different types of re-inforcers.
Primary - These are the basic needs we all need. So therefore, food, drink and sleep. Of course we can't use sleep as a re-inforcer, so as a primary re-inforcer we can only rely on food or drink.
Secondary - These are learnt re-inforcers and are not instinctive. Physical objects (toys) and preferred activities fall under this section. Social interaction (usually praise), also falls into this section, but quite often children with ASD have no desire to make social connections, so this is a hard re-inforcer to use.
During typical child development a child will build a connection with the primary and secondary re-inforcers. A baby will like to have milk (primary) and will use negative re-inforcement on the parents to get it. (i.e. baby will scream for milk and won't stop until they get it). The baby will also associate being held by the parent (social/secondary) with being given milk and over time a connection between the primary need and the secondary need will be made with the child. Eventually, the association of person giving the milk (love, happiness) will be present even if the milk is not present.
With children with ASD there is not this automatic association between the primary and secondary re-inforcers and this connection takes a LOT longer to learn. This is one reason why children with ASD may not respond to a "good job" comment when they practise a preferred behaviour. You will find in teaching new skills to a child with ASD that food is quite often used as re-inforcer. It will be accompanied by a "Well Done", but essentially the child is after the candy! :D Eventually however, the child WILL learn the connection between the primary and secondary re-inforcer so eventually a "Well Done" will be enough.
In modifying behaviour we can use either Positive or negative re-inforcers, OR positive or negative punishment. Understanding the differences between them is essential to see why they do or don't work (with most kids not just those with ASD).
Positive re-inforcement - This re-inforces a preferred behaviour by giving the child something he/she wants. Giving the child candy for doing something you want.
Negative re-inforcment - This re-inforces a preferred behaviour by taking away something the child dislikes. Stop shouting at a child when he/she is doing something you want. (Of course you shouting is not encouraged, it just illustrates a point - honest!)
Positive Punishment - The intention is to increase a preferred behaviour taking away something the child wants. Taking away a toy
Negative Punishment - The intention is to increase a preferred behaviour by giving something the child dislikes. Spanking/hitting is an example.
Re-inforcement occurs during a behaviour, where-as punishment occurs after a behaviour.
Re-inforcement of a behaviour (wether it is positive or negative) will increase a desired behaviour, Punishment (both positive and negative) will not increase a desired behaviour over a period of time. It will INCREASE an UN-DESIRED behaviour.
When a child performs negative re-inforcement on us; i.e. screaming for a toy in a store, and we give-in, we are actually positively re-inforcing the behaviour. This is more so if the toy is given after a delay, or intermittently. To explain, a child screams for a toy. You will say, No for the first 5 mins. The lack of response will cause the behaviour to increase. Eventually you have enough and you give in. The child stops screaming. The child has performed "negative re-inforcement" on you. She was doing something you didn't like, but stopped when you did what she wanted. In the future, the child will remember this. So therefore will do exactly the same again. You have positively re-inforced her behaviour because you have shown her that 'screaming works'. If you do it intermittently, then the child will scream every time you go to the toy store because she knows that there is a percentage chance the screaming will work, which is better than nothing.
The same works both ways. The best way to create a desired behaviour is to positively re-inforce it. It is the most consistent and creates a increased self-esteem (if you are able to use social re-inforcement).
Positive re-inforcement is usually used when altering behaviour through the following:
- PECS communication learning (see communication section)
- Token Economy (see tools section)
- Discrete Trial Format for behaviour (see tools section)