November 8, 2023

What is Positive Reinforcement in ABA Therapy?


Those who are familiar with Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Therapy know that this field is chock-full of terms and acronyms that can turn around even the most seasoned of vets! One such term often used is positive reinforcement. But unlike how someone might normally use this term, in the world of ABA Therapy it’s applied in a slightly different way than you’re probably used to. And it has everything to do with how we help the children we care for reach their goals.

In ABA Therapy, one of our many objectives is to teach daily living skills that will empower the children we work with, and we do this primarily through increasing and decreasing targeted behaviors. One way in which we encourage certain behaviors––for example, picking up a toy–-is by way of positive reinforcement. Let’s break this little phrase apart and find out what it means, shall we?

“Positive Reinforcement means that we are adding something to the environment (in this case a reward) to increase the likelihood of a desired behavior occurring again in the future”

Let’s Break it Down!

Reinforcement is the process of strengthening or augmenting something, and in this case that something is a pattern of behavior. Positive, on the other hand, has nothing to do with being either good or bad. It simply means that we’re adding something to the environment. Putting these two concepts together, positive reinforcement means that we are adding something to the environment (in this case a reward) to increase the likelihood of a desired behavior occurring again in the future. Let’s revisit our “picking up toys” example.

Say a clinician asked their child, Sara, to pick up her toys. Sara may not want to do it, but she also knows that if she does, she’ll get an apple slice. After some mulling it over, she decides to pick her toys up off the floor and is promptly rewarded with an apple slice! Thrilled, she’s much more likely to follow through with picking her toys up in the future because she now associates the action with something positive.

“The key is to find what makes the individual you’re working with tick, and then use it as a reward.“

That’s what positive reinforcement in ABA Therapy is all about! It’s the art of rewarding desired behaviors with a sprinkle of joy, making it much more likely that these behaviors will happen again in the future. In ABA Therapy, positive reinforcement comes in all shapes and sizes, just like your favorite ice cream toppings. We’ve got praise, high-fives, stickers, or even time on the trampoline – whatever floats your boat or makes you smile! The key is to find what makes the individual you’re working with tick, and then use it as a reward.

Why Positive Reinforcement Works!

  1. Adaptable and Personalized: What works for one person might not work for another. Our ABA Therapy tailors positive reinforcement to suit each individual’s preferences, making it a highly effective tool.
  2. It’s Motivational: Positive reinforcement taps into what makes an individual happy and motivated. It could be a sticker, apple slices, or a few minutes of playtime with a preferred toy. Whatever it is, we incorporate it into your child’s treatment to entice them into meeting their goals!
  3. It Builds Confidence: Everyone loves praise and rewards, and when we get those things that make us happy following certain behaviors, it can boost our self-esteem and confidence.
  4. Consistency Is Key: The great thing about positive reinforcement is that it isn’t a one-time deal. It’s consistent and happens as long as the behavior continues. And the more we reward good behaviors, the more likely they are to become a habit.

And let’s be honest: it’s just plain fun! Positive reinforcement adds an extra dose of fun to the learning process and we are all about making learning as enjoyable as possible!

So, there you have it. Positive reinforcement in ABA Therapy is like a behavioral high-five! It’s a science-based, motivating, and overall fun way to encourage and maintain targeted behaviors. So now whenever you hear your child’s therapist talking about positive reinforcement, you should have a better understanding of what this entails. This is but one of the many methods used in ABA Therapy for achieving our goals, and there is an entire process for learning what items will be effective rewards for each child, but let’s save that for another day. To learn more about the world of ABA Therapy, click here to see the rest of our blogs!



At InBloom Autism Services, we specialize in early intervention ABA Therapy, which means our centers and curriculum were created specifically for children 5 and under with autism. Our Learning Centers are a great opportunity for children to engage with their peers in a safe and fun environment. Learn more about ABA Therapy here!


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