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.

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.

If the child is not running towards the people, classroom, therapy room, and/or the materials, pairing most likely needs to be addressed. Pairing is not a once and done activity. It needs to happen every day as new activities, people and materials are introduced.

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. Go to my online course page to find out more!