Pairing with Reinforcement: The First Step to Teaching Students with Autism

For all adults and children, including students with autism, when you see problem behavior (crying, whining, hitting, biting, flopping to the ground, etc.), the demands are almost always too high and/or the reinforcement is too low. That’s why today, I’m talking all about pairing.

If the child is displaying problem behaviors when the parent interacts with him, when the therapist arrives or when it is time to go to school, the parent, therapist, or teacher has most likely become aversive. He or she did not pair themselves well with reinforcement and has most likely made abrupt demands. To correct the situation, the adults need to learn about pairing themselves, the materials, and the environment with reinforcement.

If your child loves to play legos a certain way, for instance, the adult should sit next to him and let him play “his way” for a session or two. He or she should be taking notes about what the child likes during the first few sessions and the child’s reaction if the adult sits near him, talks, or plays alongside. During subsequent sessions the adult should interject comments, demands or questions very carefully.

The adult’s demands should be so subtle that the child is unaware when pairing has stopped and demands have begun.

Basically we want the child to run to the door if you’re providing therapy in the home, to run to the station within your classroom to do work with you, to run to get a bath or to put their shoes on. If they’re not running to the task or at least walking there without any problem behavior, then I think you need to go back to the drawing board and look at ways you could increase the reinforcement and maybe make the demand a little bit easier.

Chapter 4 of my book (The Verbal Behavior Approach) should help you learn more about pairing. I also go over all of these techniques and so much more in my Autism ABA Help Course. Check out my workshops to find out more!

Hopefully you got more information about pairing. To get you started on turning autism around for your child or client with autism, make sure to download my free 3-step guide today. I’ll see you next time.