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What is Differential Reinforcement?

January 14, 2022

You want your child to make their bed in the morning and brush their teeth before bedtime. You want them to be attentive and fidget less. How do you go about it?

What is Differential Reinforcement?You could remind them every day and turn into a “yelly monster,” ground them or take away their privileges. But all that is too much effort, and it could accomplish the exact opposite of what you want. Why not try differential reinforcement?

When the child makes their bed, they earn a tip, a treat, a trip, or a high five. When they don’t make the bed, they earn “nada”. Do the same for all the other desirable behaviors and actions that you wish to encourage.

Differential Reinforcement is the act of rewarding just the suitable action while leaving out every opposite action or behavior. A fundamental principle of differential reinforcement is the idea of omission. The omission is created by deciding when reinforcement is deserved or not deserved. This is how you reward the child for making their bed and withhold the reward when they don’t.

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Some studies suggest differential reinforcement helps children with autism improve their social skills, communication with others, functional play, school readiness, and adaptive skills. Negative behaviors are not reinforced, therefore the idea is that the child might seek alternative target behavior over time. 

The right timing and targeting of reinforcement might help diminish some stereotypical behaviors in the autism spectrum and improve learning and development.

Types of Differential Reinforcement

Differential Reinforcement of the Other Behaviors (DRO)

Differential Reinforcement of Other Behaviors uses omission training approaches to shape behavior. For better behavior, DRO provides encouraging feedback occasionally delivered just if the child does something different from the target behavior.

Example: At home, you want to reinforce polite language and etiquette differentially. You offer the reward when a child says “please” and “thank you” and hold it back when he/she curses.

Differential Reinforcement of the Alternative Behaviors

DRA Differential Reinforcement rewards behavior or action that is an alternative to the desired response. You first identify the desired behavior and actions and responses closely related that you can reward should the primary response be missed.

Example: In class, a teacher rewards students for finishing their homework on time just as he/she would reward those who actively participate in class. The teacher withholds the reward for laziness and lack of class participation.

Differential Reinforcement of the Incompatible Behaviors (DRI)

Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behaviors (DRI) rewards practices that are contradictory with an issue or improper practices that the person shouldn’t be doing simultaneously.

Example: If a student that actively participates in class likes to shout out answers, he/she can be rewarded for raising their hand and waiting their turn to speak. Extinction aba is critical here to diminish unintentional rewarding of unwanted behavior.

Differential Reinforcement of Lesser Rates of Behavior (DRL)

DRL rewards timeframes in which the youngster displays the conduct after a timeframe of no occurrences. A DRL time, as an example, is when a child is rewarded for making noise less frequently than he/she normally does in a classroom session.

Differential Reinforcement of High Rates of Behavior (DRH)

Child behaviors get reinforced only if they are above a set limit.

Example: Rewarding a child tokens that culminate in a trip to the mall if he/she makes their bed all seven days of the week. The behavior is reinforced at gradual intervals.

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Using differential reinforcement with your ASD child

The differential reinforcement examples and techniques outlined above can be used at home or school. Start by setting objectives, keeping a close eye on the child, and maintaining behavioral tallies and charts. Other tips include: 

Specify a time period

When targeting to reduce negative behavior rates with differential reinforcement, set a time frame for the teaching and offer the reward only if there are no occurrences of the undesirable behavior within the time.

For example, Peter is told, “If you don’t mouth objects during the entire English lesson (40 minutes), you get extra dessert at lunchtime.” If Peter meets this test, reinforcement is given.

Break down lengthy intervals

Better results may be attainable when you use reinforce procedures at intervals. For instance, instead of waiting for the entire English lesson to reward Peter, it would help reward and withhold reinforcement at 10-minute intervals.

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In this article, you should have gained an understanding of the ideas behind differential reinforcement, the types of reinforcements, and why some experts believe it is a useful tool for parents to use as part of ABA Therapy or in general with their child.

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