Reinforcement for Older Children With Autism

From working with older children, I know that secondary reinforcement (i.e. verbal praise) is precedent, as this is the method most adults use for school aged children. Just as important is incorporating imagination into a therapist’s reinforcement. Reinforcement is also more focused as play and less focused as strict praise at the table.

Not only do therapist use verbal praise, but token systems can be used as well as stickers and access to toys.

Below is a compilation of various types of reinforcement for older children with autism.

1. High Fives: Therapist can do high fives or high tens. Therapist can do the high five game: “Gimme five..up high..down low…too slow” or play an anticipatory game by pausing before you giving a high five. There are many ways a therapist can give a high five or ten. For example, when the child is going to give you a high five/ten, therapist can quickly close their hand—this becomes the, “see if you can give me a high five/ten” game for the child. A therapist can also act goofy and do “impossible” high fives/tens such as having the therapist’s arms wide out and then having the child try to give the therapist a high five/ten.

2. Thumbs up: A sly way of saying, “good job”

3. Stickers: Find what character the child likes such as Scooby-doo or franklin the turtle and grab loads of stickers for them.

4. Grab Bag: Buy little boxes or bags and fill them up with things the child likes, either food or toys. Examples might be, jewelry, various slime products, stickers, music tapes, arts and craft material etc…

5. Treasure Hunt: Hide some toys for the child and after every program, hunt for all the toys. For children who can read, therapist can make up simple clues for the child to follow.

6. Verbal Praise: Develop YOUR own familiar words like “AWESOME” “SUPER-DEE-DUPER.” Therapist can also say them in various tones. Child will soon learn which therapist says which words.

7. Singing: Have the therapist and child sing a favorite song.

8. Computer Access: For parents who don’t mind, rotate favorite computer games the child likes, and after “X” amount of programs with good behavior, have the child play on computer for 5 or 10 minutes.

9. A +: For good work, write on their paper 100% or A+. At the end of the session tally up the good marks for a toy or favorite snack.

10. Temporary Tattoos: Give each other tattoos. Therapist picks a tattoo for the child and the child picks one for the Therapist. Show the child how to put on a temporary tattoo and then let the child put on one you. Oh, by the way, let the child decide where they want to put the tattoo on the therapist! Don’t be surprised if they decide to put a funny tattoo on Therapist’s face!

11. Pretend You’re A…: For children who like to act out characters or animals, have them take turns deciding what to be. For the next program, pretend to be that character or animal.

12. Crossword Puzzles: Have therapist design their own cross word. “ Word pick” should be based on what the child likes. For example, Disney characters, popular music artists, favorite foods or animals, names of family members/therapists/friends, or pick goofy, funny words. At the end, therapist and child can either make up a story about the words in the cross word or make a new list of words for a new cross word.

13. Sand Dig: Therapist gathers little plastic animals and sand. Therapist fills up bucket with sand and hides plastic animals in it. Child and therapist go on an, “archeological dig” and compete to see who gets more animals. Afterwards, you can use animals in a play skit.

14. Theme Day: Therapist can choose to do a theme day once a week or for a whole week. Decide ahead of time what a good theme would be. Examples could be: Insects, Dinosaurs, Summer, Outer Space, Scientific Experiments, Plants, Musical Instruments, the Zoo, the Ocean, Magic, Disney etc..

On each day, focus on one aspect of your theme and dedicate the whole session to learning about this topic. For example, for the Outer Space theme day, all reinforcement for the week will have something to do with outer space such as plastic space aliens or spin tops as spaceships.

On Monday, child and therapist will learn about the planet Mars. Arts and crafts can be to paint a Styrofoam ball red.

On Tuesday, child and therapist can learn about the stars. Therapist can bring glow in the dark star stickers and with parent’s permission, stick them on the wall in child’s room or bathroom. Turn off the light and pretend you are flying in outer space.

15. Sample Magic: Purchase or rent a kid’s magician book and teach the child simple magic tricks that will amaze his or her parents. For a peer date, set up a magic show and have the child entertain his or her peer. Afterwards, have the child teach the peer some of the magic tricks.

16. Giant Cards: Child and therapist make giant playing cards out of 8×11 paper. When all are done, play a game of go fish. The cards alone will create a lot of laughter, let alone trying to hold a few in your hand!

17. Mexican Jumping Beans: Pretend therapist has “magic beans.” Tell the child to be absolutely quiet and to really concentrate on the beans. Present the beans and wait. When a bean jumps, act surprise and say, “How did THAT happen?” and close your hand. If the child requests to look at them again, slowly open your hand. Children will be amazed at Therapist’s jumping beans.

18. Body Drawings: Get two big sheets of paper and outline child’s body on paper. Have child do the same for therapist. Have therapist draw the child’s face and clothes and have the child do the same for you. For added fun, color the child’s nose green and face purple. Put rainbow streaks in their hair and exclaim, “Isn’t this a split image of you?”

19. Beat the Clock: Get a timer and use a page from a book or a room in the house and list as many things as possible within the time frame. This is a good method to teach rapid responding.

20. Is there something in your ear?: Look at the child with a quizzical expression and say, “Is there something in your ear?” look into his ear and magically pull out money, toys or food. Therapist and child can think of crazy things to pull out of each others ears such as shoes, books, socks, big stuffed animals…you name it, the child will pull it out of a therapist’s ear!

21. Oops!: Have therapist “accidentally” sit on a whoopee cushion as they are about to do a drill. Have therapist look surprised and say, “(child’s name)! Was thaaaaaaaat you!!!??”

22. Feet Dragging: Have the child lie down and grab their feet. Therapist then pulls them and takes them on a ride around the room.

23. Salt Pepper: Pretend to eat the child for lunch/dinner/breakfast. Gather all the ingredients and “pour” them over the child. When it comes to the pepper, either have the therapist sneeze or get the child to sneeze by prompting them, “Hey, I just poured pepper all over ya!”

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