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The collective gasp of all the people in the room is a familiar sound every time I mention the word “punishment”. I can thank some poor ethical choices from 50 years ago, and the confusion between the word punishment in regular language versus what it means in the context of Behaviour Analytic literature. This article will cover what reinforcement and punishment are in terms of behaviour, and hopefully you will have a better understanding of how we use these effective techniques, in a safe and ethical way.
Let’s start with reinforcement. Reinforcement is the addition or removal of a stimulus, that increases the future frequency of a behaviour. Any time behaviour is increasing (or maintaining) you are reinforcing it. You can reinforce your partner doing the dishes or them sitting on the couch, your child’s tantrums or their use of functional communication. There is no good or bad in reinforcement, it only refers to the behaviour increasing.
This is the same for punishment. Punishment is the addition or removal of a stimulus, that decreases future frequency of behaviour. Once again, there is no good or bad, and punishers are not necessarily things the average person would find aversive or see as harmful. Let’s look at some examples.
|Antecedent (before)||Behaviour||Consequence||Future Frequency|
|A parent says “please do your homework”||Child completes homework||Parent praises the child||Behaviour increases, more homework is completed (reinforcement)|
|A parent says “please do your homework”||Child completes homework||Parent praises the child||Behaviour decreases, less homework is completed
We may think we’re doing one thing…but actually children see it as another!
In this example the same sequences of events occur, and we see different effects on the child’s behaviour. It is these effects on behaviour that determine what is punishment or reinforcement. We see this happen in our daily lives all the time, we think that we’re helping, but behaviour isn’t changing or it’s getting worse. When we break it down something that we are doing in earnest, is actually punishment (reducing behaviour).
In conclusion, reinforcement and punishment are not about good and bad, they are scientific terms that help us understand behaviour. Once we understand a behaviour then we can change the environment, or up-skill people around us, to help a child better succeed and have a happier time in their home, school or community.
Please call Rachel or I on 9274 7062 for more information about your child’s program or about any of our services.
ABACAS Program Manager
Occupational Therapist Team
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Everyone has daily ‘occupation’, eg, work, play, eat, sleep, dress. Occupational therapy promotes normal development and stimulates learning in children with specific learning difficulties, physical disabilities, delayed development or those recovering from illness or injury.
Working with children, their families and teachers, occupational therapists aim to improve the child’s quality of life by helping them to participate in play, preschool, school and home activities.
An occupational therapist may work with children in any of the following areas:
Prerequisite activities – the child’s physical abilities, such as motor control, hand-to-eye coordination, body awareness and sensation.
Functional skills – the child’s day-to-day living skills, such as eating, writing, going to the toilet, interacting with other children and playground skills.
The environment – such as classroom furniture, classroom and schoolyard access, and equipment for woodwork, art and physical education.
Information sourced from OT Australia:
Please call Reception to find out more about our OT services on 9274 7062
Happy OT week!
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In the next of our five part series, we look at verbal behaviour in children. Some children come into our ABA program with little or no expressive language. Some of our young clients expect their parents to “read their mind” and just “know” what they want. In other cases, parents have developed really good skills of predicting or anticipating the child’s needs. For example, parents learn very quickly that when their child starts climbing up the bookshelf – it usually means that they want something.
For many of our young clients, the first step is to teach them the value of language. From a behavioural perspective, this may mean teaching the child the function behind a word. A child may be able to say the word “help”. However being able to say the word, is not the same as knowing that “help” is the word to use whenever the child requires assistance. For example, being able to use the word “help” becomes very handy when trying to reach that thing that’s out of reach.
Types of Verbal Behaviour
In order to understand this better, let’s have a look at the types of verbal behaviour. According to Skinner, verbal behaviour can be categorized into these parts: echoics, mands, tacts and intraverbals:
|Echoics||Repeating what is heard vocally or with the use of manual sign imitation – for example, saying “water” after another person says “water”.|
|Mands||Requesting for something – for example, asking for “water” because you are thirsty.|
|Tacts||Identifying objects, verbs, situations by labelling them – for example, saying “water” when you see water.
|Intraverbals||Answering questions – for example, saying “water” when another person asks: “What would you like to drink?”|
An Example of Teaching Verbal Behaviour
Programs focusing on verbal behaviour often start by working out what a child is able to do. There is no point trying to teach a child to use the word “water” if they are not yet able to produce the correct sounds. A child may first need to be taught how to say “water” and to learn how to pronounce it correctly so that others can understand (using echoic strategies).
From there, the next stage it to teach the child that saying the word “water” will lead to good things happening (in this case being given something to drink or to play with). This is the process of teaching mands. Positive reinforcement is important as it will lead to the child being more likely to say the word “water” whenever he/she wants a cup of water. A flow on effect from this is that in increasing the child’s vocabulary, we might be able to reduce problematic behaviour (e.g. sinks being flooded and fridge doors left open).
Of course, we also want the child to be able to use this new word in other contexts. For example, being able to apply it to new situations (e.g. looking at the ocean and commenting on the “water”) through to being able to answer other people’s questions (e.g. “what would you like to drink?”).
Where to from here?
All of our clients enter into our programs with different levels of language. The job of your ABACAS Program Manager is to understand their current level of skills and work out next steps.
Please feel free to talk to either of the Program Managers about any questions you may have about verbal behaviour and your child.
To find out more about our services in general please call the Child Wellbeing Centre on (08) 9274 7062.
Assistant Program Manager, ABACAS