Posts Tagged ‘reinforcement’

Ginger rated her behavior during carpet time

Hi! and welcome to What Works Wednesdays where a success story from clinical files is shared. Today’s story is about a little girl named Ginger who happens to be a typically developing 3rd grade. Ginger’s teacher contacted Applied Behavioral Strategies to assist her with Ginger’s behavior because Ginger had difficulty paying attention during morning meeting, sitting quietly during group instruction, and staying on task during independent seat work.

Record Review

A review of Ginger’s academic records indicated that she was performing at grade level in all areas. While she had some struggles learning to read, with focused intervention, she has remained on a 3rd grade reading level. Ginger is also very active and has difficulty keeping her hands, arms, and legs still. Finally, Ginger is highly distractable. Her focus is disrupted by butterflies, peers walking by, and particles on the floor.

Ginger’s teacher felt overwhelmed because she had tried verbal reminders, notes home to parents, and seating arrangements. She felt that none of these strategies worked effectively.

Student Interview

The behavior analyst asked Ginger why she had difficulty sitting quietly, completing her seat work, and listening to teacher instruction. She responded that, “I try to sit still and listen but my friend talks to me” and “I try to do my work but I have to sharpen my pencil” and “I sit away from my friend but she comes to sit next to me”.

ABC Observation and Analysis

Direct observation revealed that a variety of consequences followed these target behaviors. Sometimes Ginger received a verbal warning, sometimes the class received a reminder, and some times, no consequence occurred at all.


The behavior analyst needed more time to complete the assessment

so she developed a brief self-monitoring plan for Ginger to use until the assessment and behavior intervention plan could be completed. The self-monitoring plan consisted of Ginger evaluating her own behavior following each instructional activity. Her teacher reviewed the evaluation and confirmed if the evaluation matched reality. Ginger received praise and positive feedback for desired behaviors and her parents provided additional positive attention each day when Ginger shared her rating at home.

Additional Tips

The form was printed and put onto Ginger’s favorite color of construction paper. Then it was laminated so that one side showed the seat work and the other side showed the carpet time. Using a dry erase marker, Ginger could self-rate each day and then the chart could be wiped clean for the next day.

Ginger rated her behavior during seat work


After 2 weeks, the assessment had to be put on hold because Ginger’s behavior improved. As with any student, Ginger continues to have difficulty when substitute teachers are present. However, this simple intervention worked to focus on Ginger’s strengths by reinforcing desirable behaviors.

Readers, have any of you tried self-management? What worked? Parents, have any of your children been placed on self-management plans? Did you like it? Did your child?

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You know we are back to our old antics when we resume our Funny Friday posts. We just couldn’t resist this one. We love the men in our lives who are awesome fathers but there is nothing like some good ole ABA to help improve things. Thanks to Real Life Adventures (Lance Aldrich and Gary Wise) for this great cartoon!

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For the past 3 years, I (Missy) have been trying to get the Bonus Kids addicted to reading like I was as a child. It is quite a difficult challenge when you have to compete against other reinforcers such as television, iPads, and DS-es.

Reinforcement Works!

I thought I had tried everything. But then, I remembered that I am a behavior analyst. Hello! As behavior analysts, we change behaviors.

In this scenario, I did not need to teach the girls to read, their teachers had already done that. I wanted them to want to read. I needed to make reading reinforcing. How do you do that? You read a darn good story and get them hooked on it. We started with The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. (You can read my review here). It was a hit. Our night-time reading ritual took off!

Then, we started “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret“. The girls begged me to read each night (instead of begging for television!). I have to admit, I found the book challenging at times. For example, I tried to ad lib over the part about Playboy but Beanie was reading over my shoulder and caught me. “That’s not what it says!” Then she wanted to know, “What is Playboy?” How is that for a bed time conversation?

We definitely had a cool moment when we came across the daily exercise and chant, “We must, we must…..” When Baby Cakes told her Nana about it, Nana finished the chant before Baby Cakes could! Baby Cakes was shocked that Nana knew The Chant! (You see, that is what is so amazing about Judy Blume. She writes timeless stories. Events in her book resonated across 3 generations of women. We were 3/4 of the way through the book when Beanie asked, “When was this book written? Margaret hasn’t talked about her iTouch or iPad.”)

As I read the final pages of the book, I got choked up when I came to the phrase, “I GOT IT!”. I looked up and Beanie was wiping away a few glistening tears. Thank you Judy Blume for helping me love books and for helping my Bonus Girls begin to love them too.

Most Reinforcing Books for Children?

So, now I need help from our readers. Please share some of the titles of the most reinforcing books for children. I need to grow our “To Read” list so that I can keep those reinforcers coming.

We are linking up again this week over at yeah write. We prefer to hang out. Hop on over there and check out the other blogs. If you are up for a challenge, you should also check out the challenge grid. Don’t forget to vote on the challenge grid on Thursday.
read to be read at yeahwrite.me

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We read an interesting post on one of our list serves reminding us that even when we use words that “we” believe are commonly understood, we may be assuming too much.The post we saw today referred to rewards as bad things because they lead to, among other things, “satiation.”

The post was published on Edutopia on March 6, 2012 (http://www.edutopia.org/blog/reward-fraud-richard-curwin). Dr. Curwin noted that

Satiation means that more of something is required to get the same effect. Examples are pain medication or hot water in a bath. I love a hot bath, but eventually it starts to feel cooler, and I add more hot water. Rewards are like that. Children never say, “That’s way too much. Please give me less.” They often say, “Is that all? I want more.” Eventually, rewards like stickers, food, parties, toys or candy become expected, and their effect is greatly reduced.”

Now, we know that Dr. Curwin’s interpretation of satiation does not align with the text-book definitions of satiation. In fact, the definition of satiation is almost the exact opposite of what Dr. Curwin described. Satiation, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “point at which satisfaction of a need or familiarity with a stimulus reduces or ends an organism’s responsiveness or motivation.” Dictionary.com, offers a much more user-friendly definition, “the point at which one is satisfied or more than satisfied“.

In our behavioral framework, we say that a person becomes satiated when overexposed to an item that previously was needed or wanted. Take thirst, for example. In a 4-term contingency that includes motivating operations (MO, also understood as internal motivations), “thirst” serves as an MO. That is, in the presence of water (Sd), given “thirst” as a precondition (MO), a person will drink the water (response) because the value of slaking his thirst is pretty high (Sr+). On the other hand, if I’m feeling pretty hydrated, I likely won’t drink water (‘response’) even when it is present (‘Sd’) because the value to me (Sr+) is diminished at that time.

Dr. Curwin is right when he says that satiation is not a good thing when working with kids, but he is not correct from a behaviorally analytical framework. When folks get too much of something (even if it’s awesome at first), they will want less of it in the future!

We think that sometimes folks just get confused with all these terms and their relationship to one another. So, next time you think you’ve explained everything clearly, check to see that you all share the same understanding. What you find may just surprise you!

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Hi and welcome to Ask Missy Mondays where I respond to email questions from readers who have questions about behavior. Today’s question comes from two reporters who interviewed me for follow-up articles they were writing about the Scream Rooms (also known as Timeout Rooms) here in Connecticut.

One reporter asked, “Is there any research to support the use of timeout rooms?”

Sadly, I was not able to cite any research supporting the use of timeout rooms so I told the reporter that I would look in to it and get back to him.

Exclusionary Versus Non-Exclusionary Timeout

We have already discussed the research on the timeout procedure, as well as one alternative that may be used instead of timeout (there are many others). Most of the recent research on timeout involves non-exclusionary uses of the method. Specifically, rather than excluding a child and isolating her in a room alone, other ways of implementing a time out include:

  • Having the child sit and watch recess rather than participate in it
  • Preventing a child from earning tokens when the rest of the class is earning tokens
  • Briefly turning your back to the child to remove adult attention

Published Studies

I conducted a cursory review of the literature in search of research to support the use of timeout rooms and I will briefly review what I found.

Timeout for Inappropriate Mealtime Behavior

In 1970, Barton, Guess, Garcia, and Baer published a study about the use of timeout rooms for various inappropriate mealtime behavior of individuals with intellectual disabilities. Inappropriate mealtime behaviors included eating with fingers, stealing food, and “pigging” (e.g., eating off the floor). The authors noted that some participants were called to an isolated room whereas others experienced non-exclusionary timeout in that their tray was removed for 15 seconds. The authors noted that the 15-second non-exclusionary timeout was just as effective as the more lengthy timeout room.

Length of Timeout

By 1972, substantial research on timeout had been conducted such that researchers had already learned that the use of timeout for challenging behaviors combined with the use of reinforcement for appropriate behaviors was superior to either of the interventions alone. Also by 1972, researchers knew that timeout was effective but they were interested in learning the effects of varying lengths of timeout. Thus, White, Neilsen, and Johnson (1972) sought to compare the effects of 1-minute timeouts, 15-minute timeouts, and 30-minute timeouts for “deviant children”. The authors found that 1-minute timeouts were effective when they were presented first. Thus, longer periods of timeout were not required.

Timeout for Selective Mutism

In 1973, Wulbert, Nyman,  Snow, and Owen published a study on an intervention package for a young girl with selective mutism. The authors provided the young girl with candy when she spoke. They slowly faded new people in to the treatment room and continued to reinforce the girl when she spoke in front of strangers. After a few weeks of treatment, the authors added a 1-minute timeout in a timeout room. The young girl learned to talk with new peers, a new teacher, and the researchers. However, this was not achieved unless novel people were carefully faded in to the treatment.

Timeout for Aggression

In 1973, Clark, Rowbury, Baer, and Baer published a study showing the effectiveness of a 3-minute timeout room immediately following aggressive behavior. The timeout procedure worked, but note that it was very brief in duration.

Timeout Not Always Effective

White and colleagues (1972) pointed out that timeout was not always effective. They noted that the timeout procedure must match the reason or purpose (also known as function) of the behavior. Specifically, if a child engaged in challenging behavior to obtain attention, then timeout from attention or people would be effective. If a child engaged in challenging behavior to gain access to a preferred item or activity, then timeout from that item or activity would also be effective. However, if a child engaged in challenging behavior to avoid a person or to avoid work, then the use of timeout from a person or work would be ineffective for that child.

In 1977, Solnick, Rincover, and Peterson described the results of a timeout procedure for a little girl with autism who was learning her colors. If the child engaged in challenging behavior, the teacher picked up the candy (reinforcer for learning) and briefly left the room. (Note, the timeout room was not used here.) The authors noted that this procedure actually resulted in an increase in challenging behaviors rather than a decrease. Essentially, the little girl did not want to work and when the teacher left the room (i.e., removed attention), work stopped briefly. They replicated the study with a little boy diagnosed with intellectual disability. Again, when the child did not want to work, the timeout procedure was ineffective. However, when the researchers improved the quality of the instructional time (e.g., made it more fun), then the timeout procedure became effective. In summary, if instruction is of high quality, children will want to participate. If children enjoy the instructional time, the timeout procedure will be effective.

Move from Exclusionary to Non-Exclusionary

By the late 1970’s researchers learned that exlusionary timeout was not the only way of effectively addressing behavior. Researchers also began recognizing that timeout rooms required additional space, highly trained staff, and that timeout was not always effective. Thus, researchers sought to demonstrate that non-exclusionary timeout procedures could be used effectively.

In 1978 Foxx and Shaprio published a study describing the effects of a non-exlusionary timeout wherein the child wore a timeout ribbon and was not allowed to receive reinforcers that other children in the classroom were receiving.

In 1980, Wahler and Fox published a study describing the results of teaching parents to use timeout at home with their children. Children spent 5 minutes alone in their rooms when they misbehaved. Please note that in 1980 children did not have televisions, gameboys, and computers in their rooms. Thus, 5 minutes in the room with no adult or sibling attention proved effective.


In summary, a number of research studies exist demonstrating the effectiveness of timeout rooms. It should be noted that these studies were published in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s and are now considered out-of-date. While those studies helped better our understanding of behavioral techniques, research since then has shown us that:

  1. Timeout is only effective when used for attention-seeking behavior
  2. Timeout is most effective when used in combination with reinforcement for appropriate behavior
  3. Non-exclusionary timeout is equally effective at reducing behaviors
  4. Timeout should be part of a carefully monitored plan

Finally, timeout does not teach children new, appropriate or replacement behaviors. Thus, the child is not learning what to do, instead they are only learning what not to do. As teachers, we must teach children and that includes teaching them what to do instead of acting out.

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We love finding cartoons that show behavior analysis in action. We found a cartoon on another behavior analyst’s website. However, the cartoon originated from The Oatmeal. In the cartoon, you see a cat engaging in all sorts of great behavior in order to gain attention from his/her owner who is engrossed in the internet. After multiple attempts to gain attention using appropriate behavior, the cat finally decides to engage in challenging–or inappropriate– behavior (furniture scratching) in order to get attention. Surprise! This inappropriate behavior immediately resulted in attention from his/her owner.

I’m hoping that I can convince Matthew Inman to create a similar cartoon with humans. You see, the images he created, brilliantly show how challenging behavior is maintained. Children engage in a number of behaviors, many of which are ignored by parents or teachers. Still longing for attention, children will then engage in mild challenging behavior (e.g., fighting, acting out) to which parents and teachers promptly respond with negative attention. Parents and teachers justify this by saying things like, “We can’t let them fight” or “It’s not appropriate to run in the house” or even “I was trying to teach!”

So, our advice for you on this fine Friday is to take a moment to reinforce your children or students (or perhaps even your partner) so that they do not have to engage in challenging behavior in order to get your attention.

Happy Friday!

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