How to Use Positive Reinforcement During ABA Therapy

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Positive reinforcement is a “behavior shaping” technique that uses rewards to change undesirable behaviors into desirable ones. It’s typically used in dog training and with children, but it can also be applied to how people behave during ABA therapy for individuals on the autism spectrum.

ABA therapy is a form of behavioral therapy that uses positive reinforcement to help the child learn new behaviors. Positive reinforcement can be used during this type of therapy, but it can also be used in other ways. Read more in detail here: aba positive reinforcement examples.


In ABA treatment, positive Reinforcement helps clients grasp the relationship between a situation, their conduct, and how the circumstance reacts to their behavior. It may begin simply by rewarding someone for completing a task, with the goal of ultimately assisting them in learning important life skills that they can use after they leave treatment.

What Is Positive Reinforcement and How Does It Work?

Positive Reinforcement is a core notion in both general psychology and applied behavior analysis for replacing undesirable behaviors with desired ones and strengthening the development of good behaviors. It works by providing a stimulus following a behavior to increase the likelihood of the individual repeating the activity.

In nature, the stimulation is frequently gratifying or reinforcing. It will reinforce the desired reaction or behavior if it is added just after the behavior or if a clear link is established between the behavior and the stimulus.

“Positive” does not imply “excellent” when it comes to positive Reinforcement in psychology and autism treatment. Instead, think of “positive” in mathematical terms, as if you were adding something. Positive Reinforcement is the process of adding something (positive) to a person’s life as a consequence of their participating in desired behavior.

Thanking someone for holding a door open is a simple example of positive Reinforcement. Positive Reinforcement occurs when someone acknowledges and affirms a gesture, increasing the probability that the individual will hold the door open again in the future.

Positive Reinforcement may be more intentional in education and treatment to assist a person build a causal link between the circumstance, the desired conduct, the reward, and the expectation of repeating the desired behavior.


The ABCs of ABA treatment refer to this causal link. It is made up of three primary elements:

  1. The indications that precede the conduct are referred to as antecedents.

  2. The exact activities taken as a result of the antecedent are referred to as behavior.

  3. The result of such activities is called a consequence.

It’s vital to note that under this paradigm, “consequence” does not carry the negative connotations that the term ordinarily does. A consequence here simply refers to the reaction or action that occurs as a result of an activity.

A student being assigned homework is an example of the antecedent in psychology. At home, the student completes his or her schoolwork on time. As a result, the pupil receives extended playing time. Allowing the student to do something they like is the Reinforcement supplied, which should (hopefully) motivate them to do their assignment in a timely way when the antecedent comes again.

Putting the ABCs Together

The ABCs need additional attention in ABA treatment. Positive Reinforcement is unlikely to occur spontaneously for a youngster with a learning deficit or another issue that stops them from comprehending the causal connections of the ABCs. Because their learning impairment or other issue makes it difficult to intuitively perceive the relationship between the ABCs, they may act out, throw a tantrum, or be otherwise disruptive if they do not perform the appropriate behavior.

Applied behavior analysts may alter the antecedent, as well as the environment, as needed. They usually deal with situations that are fixed and relevant to the child’s life, such as the dining room at home, the school, or a public location, such as a restaurant.


One of the many responsibilities of an applied behavior analyst is to know how and when to offer reinforcements to their clients in a methodical fashion that allows the antecedent, behavior, and consequence to be linked. Positive reinforcement entails understanding how and when to add the consequence, as opposed to negative reinforcement, which entails removing the consequence.

What characteristics distinguish an excellent reinforcer? Children react best when they are given something they want as a reward. They must have a strong desire for the object or privilege in order to be willing to go through the appropriate behavioral channels to get it (and not just take a shortcut).

The ideal method to employ positive reinforcement in applied behavior analysis treatment is to assist the kid relate the reward to crucial life skills that are difficult for them to master. The greatest strategy to make beneficial changes in a child’s behavior and screen out undesired and dangerous conduct is to be consistent with the links between antecedent-behavior-reward.

Positive & Negative Reinforcement

The use of both positive and negative reinforcement in applied behavior analysis is successful. Because negative reinforcement is often connected with punishment, it is not extensively used in current ABA. Negative reinforcement, on the other hand, is defined as taking away something unpleasant or painful.

Negative reinforcement is an aspect of the learning process. For example, someone who does not have appropriate rain protection will be wet, therefore they will wear a raincoat next time (which removes the discomfort of being wet). In life lessons, negative reinforcement has a role.

Positive reinforcement differs from negative reinforcement in that it includes a positive reinforcer to promote further repeats of the desired behavior. The removal of anything undesirable from the environment in order to induce further repeats of the desired behavior is known as negative reinforcement.

Bribery vs. Reward

Positive reinforcement is a reward system in which a youngster gets objects or privileges that are relevant to them if they complete activities as anticipated.

Bribery, on the other hand, occurs after a kid has already begun engaged in harmful conduct and is provided an object (such as ice cream) in order to persuade them to quit. Bribery does nothing to assist the youngster comprehend the ABC link, and it does nothing to prevent them from repeating the bad conduct. Indeed, it may educate kids that participating in the troublesome activity is a means of receiving their reward.

To separate positive reinforcement from bribery, the youngster must wait until they have displayed the anticipated behavior from the setting before receiving their desired object.

Positive reinforcement’s purpose is for the incentives to give enough encouragement for the youngster to produce the appropriate reaction on a regular, consistent basis, ultimately without requiring or anticipating the reward. The youngster will eventually recognize the link between the antecedent, their anticipated conduct, and the incentives inherent in the environment, such as gaining what they desire or overcoming a challenging circumstance.

Patience & Persistence

Being patient is one of the most important aspects of implementing positive reinforcement in ABA treatment. Even after the first five sessions, a youngster will not comprehend the relationship between the antecedent, the conduct, and the result.

No matter how irritating the process may be, parents, therapists, and caregivers must be patient and persistent in convincing the kid that the desired action is the only way to obtain the reward. When you give in to tantrums, you’re unknowingly rewarding the tantrum behavior and undoing the hard work you put into making the ABC connection.


ABD stands for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Autism Speaks is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about

Behavior’s ABC’s (Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence). (Aug. 2017) Psych Central is a website dedicated to mental health.

The ABCs of Child Behavior is a book that explains the fundamentals of child behavior. (2015, September). Today’s Psychology.

Antecedent, Behavior, and Consequence (ABC) (August 2020). ThoughtCo.

Psychology – Positive Reinforcement and Examples (December 2020). Brain-friendly parenting.

Additional Considerations on the Difference Between Positive and Negative Reinforcement (2006, Spring). Analyst of human behavior.

How to Improve Your Child’s Behavior Using Positive Reinforcement (In September of 2020) Greetings, Family.

Positive Reinforcement as an Intervention Strategy for Children with Disabilities: Understanding and Implementation (In January of 2004) The American Journal of Occupational Therapy is a publication dedicated to occupational therapy.

The One Parenting Tip Everyone Should Know (In March of 2020). The Parent of Today.

Why the First Thing to Consider When Teaching a New Skill Is Reinforcement. (2017, January). The Autism Assistant.

Positive reinforcement is a technique that uses rewards and praise to encourage desired behaviors. ABA therapy is a type of behavior therapy that uses positive reinforcement during treatment. Reference: positive reinforcement aba cooper.

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