Reinforcement is a process in which a consequence, a reinforcer, is given following a desired behavior to increase the likelihood or maintain that the behavior under similar conditions .


Credits: Amanda Arnold Elementary, Manhattan KS

How To Use

The following steps are used in reinforcement:

  1. Identify a desired behavior. Choose an observable and measurable behavior.
  2. Select an effective reinforcer. Choose a reinforcer or reinforcers by observation, interview, or completing a reinforcer checklist.
  3. Administer reinforcer contingent upon the desired behavior. Give the reinforcer on a predetermined schedule after the desired behavior occurs.

It should be noted that activities, foods, or items that are generally considered pleasant or enjoyable by others may not necessarily be reinforcing. That is, what serves as a reinforcer to one person may not be a reinforcer to another. Also, too frequent use of reinforcement may cause the individual to grow tired of the reinforcement and result in a loss of reinforcement effectiveness.

When To Use

Reinforcement should be used anytime you want to increase a specific behavior or maintain a behavior under similar situationsis to increase the frequency of a desired behavior occurring again under similar situations. Reinforcemnt can be used at home, school or any other environment.



The target behavior for Susan was to learn the alphabet. In the beginning, whenever Susan identified a correct letter, the teacher gave her a small piece of cookie and praised her. Later on, the teacher still praised Susan for every correct response but gave her a small piece of cookie after three correct responses. Gradually, the teacher continued to use verbal praise for every correct response, but gave Susan a small piece of cookie a few times in an unpredictable manner. After a couple of sessions, the teacher only gave Susan verbal praise when she answered correctly.

Another example: if a child receives a piece of chocolate when he asks for one and the frequency of “chocolate-requesting behavior” increases, the chocolate can be seen as a reinforcer that reinforces “chocolate-requesting behavior.” On the other hand, if chocolate-requesting behavior does not increase, the chocolate cannot be considered a reinforcer.



The purpose of using reinforcement is to increase the frequency of a desired behavior occurring again under similar situations. As such, a reinforcer is the consequence of a behavior, leading to future occurrence. Positive reinforcement means the presentation of a consequence increases a behavior whereas negative reinforcement removes a negative stimulus to increase the occurrence of a behavior.

Data Collection

Preference Assessments and Reinforcer Assessments: Data collection should be used to determine high preference items and to assess if those items will function as reinforcers during daily work and tasks.


The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders (Implementation Checklist)

Texas Statewide Leadership for Autism Evidence Based Practice: Reinforcement