Positive reinforcement is generally the most effective
behavior management strategy in dealing with challenging
behaviors of children with autism
syndrome. It can also be used to help autistic children to learn
new behaviors, from life skills through to alternatives to repetitive
Positive reinforcement underlies the majority
of all human behavior. We act in certain ways to obtain desirable
consequences, whether it is going to work to get our paychecks,
or treating others nicely in the hope they will do the same to us.
Behavior charts can be a very effective and easy tool for parents
to use, whether a child is on the autism spectrum or not.
In their basic form, a child receives a mark
on the chart for good behavior. This positive reinforcement is one
of the principle keys behind effective interventions such as Applied
Behavior Analysis (ABA), and is very easy for parents to use.
How do behavior charts work?
The desired behavior is listed so the goal is
easily understood by the child. The parent and child can talk about
the behavior and how it will be rewarded. Inappropriate behaviors
are also discussed, so that a child will realize there are consequences
– ie. They will not receive a mark on their chart.
Behavior charts can be adapted to suit. For example, a child with
Asperger’s syndrome might have trouble handling the abstract concept
of playing well with other children or siblings, so the goals can
be simplified to concrete terms such as an absence of fighting or
Your child should work toward some ultimate reward, such as a special
treat or outing when ten marks are collected. A visual representation
of the reward can help as children on the spectrum often respond
better with visual imagery along with the words.
Some parents find that these charts are of no interest, but often
this is because it does not fit within the child’s frame of reference.
This can be a chance to work with obsessive interests. If a boy
is fascinated by fire trucks, then the symbols on the chart could
be little fire trucks, and the ultimate reward for ten days of good
behavior could be a trip to the local fire station (if the firemen
can be talked into this!).
The key to behavior charts is avoiding punishment
and focusing on rewards for positive behavior. Don't take marks
off for challenging behavior., simply explain that there is no mark
for that day because there wasn't enough good behavior. Get excited
about good behavior. and heap your child with compliments when you
put that mark on the chart!
Keep things achievable too. When you start, make sure that it is
very easy to get those marks happening as your child realizes that
good behavior has payoffs. Once the concept is working, you can
gradually increase the difficulty of the goals, but remember the
overriding aim is to encourage your child, not frustrate them with
Some tasks might need some variability, so that a good attempt at
the desired behavior. earns three marks out of a potential five.
Obviously this will need a higher total for the reward, such as
twenty or forty marks before that special treat or excursion.
If the whole idea of a chart doesn't work for your child, the concept
can be adapted to suit, whether it is coins stored in a glass bottle,
or printing out fake money with your child's face on it ie. $50
collected equals that special treat.
Remember to be consistent. Your child will be easily confused if
the rules for the behavior. chart change depending on whether you
are in a good mood that day or not! Also make sure that the reward
your child is working toward will happen. If that trip to the zoo
doesn't happen after all their hard work, it will be hard to maintain
their trust and enthusiasm.
There are websites that provide free behavior
charts for download. Just enter those words in your search engine
and find ones that suit, or use them for ideas of your own.
Click here for the full
range of Asperger's and autism fact sheets at www.autism-help.org
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