Reevaluate reinforcement and the reinforcers currently being implemented (on purpose or by accident). Determine if positive appropriate behaviors or negative inappropriate behaviors are being encouraged.
Reinforcement, an ABA term, can be either positive or negative. However, be sure to think of these terms as positive and negative as in math terms of adding/subtracting vs. appropriate and inappropriate.
This is very, very important to avoid confusion.
A reinforcement procedure is only a reinforcement procedure if the behavior is increased and is repeated in the future. Example: If a child screams and then receives something desired such as candy, cookie, being held, etc., then in that situation screaming worked! The child was positively reinforced. In the future, when the child encounters a similar situation, he or she screams again to gain access to a desired item because it worked previously.
This is an example of positive reinforcement. The individual gained (positive) a reinforcer (candy) by demonstrating the behavior of screaming. The behavior of screaming increased, the child used it again and possibly again and again if it continues to work for them.
If the child screamed and something the child did not like was removed then the child will scream again in the future if he/she wants the similar item or request to be removed. This is an example of negative reinforcement.
Ask the individual their preferences
It may be helpful to place visuals or a choice board in front of the individual to help with clarification.
Complete a reinforcer or preference assessment
Know what the individual likes or enjoys doing and what is of interest to the individual.
Observe and keep track of repeated behaviors
Keep track of repeated behaviors; inappropriate/unsafe/undesirable or appropriate/safe/desirable and determine what happens right before the individual demonstrates a behavior such as who is around, what was done, any sensory triggers, etc. and what happens right after.
Determine what the individual strives to attain
It may surprise you but an individual's reinforcer may actually be something most individuals attempt to escape. It could be performing in front of others, completing all homework before leaving school, being in class to receive all assignments, etc.
Determine if the reinforcer is 'freely' available
Why work for it if it is already yours or if it is at your disposal anytime, anywhere, etc.?
Determine if the reinforcer is a true indication of the expectation
Does the individual have to do a specific task or behavior to receive the reinforcer?
Are the expectations clear?
Will the individual receive the reinforcer even if they do not meet the expectations (not talking about errorless learning here) or can the individual receive it for halfway doing the task/behavior or for not doing the task?
The expected or desired behavior is more likely to be repeated if the reinforcer is contingent on the operational definition of the behavior. Be very clear what is expected to gain the reinforcer. Example: If you receive an all expense paid trip to Italy but only went to two of the twelve week training course, then you quickly learned that twelve weeks of training actually means two weeks of training for you. So next time, less effort.
Determine if the individual is having to wait too long for the reinforcer
Immediately following the desired response is best. Using a token system such as fake coins, checks, points, etc. can be beneficial. A token is received immediately following the behavior and is mobile and this can be done in the community. Also, it delays gratification while there is a visual of what is to come and when it will happen. Example: When the individual receives five tokens then the individual can use the computer. Of course, each individual is different. Therefore, 10 tokens may be too long or a token system may not be appropriate until the individual learns the skills. A token system does have to be taught however it should be consistent. More on token economies later.
Determine if the individual is tired of the reinforcer
Example: If you like Hershey's chocolate candybars and you received a small rectangle piece each time you said "thank you", after 30 or so "thank yous" you may stop saying "thank you" or avoid the individual trying to give you a piece of chocolate. You may even get sick. Satiation is the term that refers to too much of a good thing and is no longer effective.
Use the 'lightbulb' analogy
If an individual wants to make a room brighter, then the individual adds the light by flipping the light switch to the on position, lights turn on and it is brighter. So next time when the individual wants the room to be brighter then they will add light by flipping the light switch on.
On the flip side if a room is too bright an individual can turn off the light (remove/subtract something that is aversive or bad to that individual at that particular time) and the room is less bright/dark (the reinforcer or event that encourages the use of the behavior again).
The aversive or unwanted light is gone/removed (negative/subtracted) due to the behavior of turning the light switch to the off position. Therefore, the removal of the light's brightness (the reinforcer or event following the behavior) encourages the continued use of the behavior (turning off the light switch) when it is too bright.
In both situations turning on and turning off the light switch continues to occur in the near future, behavior increases. Reinforcement has occurred in both situations because the behaviors increased or repeated for that individual. Therefore, it is so important to keep a close eye on what could be encouraging the repeated use of challenging behaviors.
Functional behavioral assessments and determining possible reasons why a particular behavior is occurring will be reviewed later.
References: Applied Behavior Analysis - By John O. Cooper, Timothy E. Heron, William L. Heward (2007); Freedom From Meltdowns: Dr. Thompson's Solutions For Children With Autism -By Travis Thompson (2008); (Functional Assessment/Analysis (Antecedents & Consequences); (PBS); Self-Management; Task Analysis; Social Narrative; Pivotal Response Training; (Naturalistic Interventions); Visual Supports; Stimulus Control)