Identifying a Powerful Reinforcer

Have you ever run out of a powerful reinforcer that can reliably engage a child to learn?

In a clinical setting recently, I found out that a student and his mom liked and bonded positively with each other very much. I created “The Happy Mommy” program. I “used” mommy both in a contract and as an antecedent. I also “rewarded” the child by mentioning mommy as a consequence.

With the parent’s enthusiastic cooperation on giving a delayed praise, severity and occurrence of unwanted behaviours was reduced close to zero. The therapist’s instruction reliably occasioned the learner to perform a task (even with difficult work) 100% of trials.

Some other positive side effects were recorded too. The child was much more willing to try harder work since he expected mommy’s praise at the end of the day. He was also much happier and smiled more in the classroom.

He verbally repeated the contract to his teacher, “If I work nicely with teacher, mommy will be happy.” He also creatively re-created the contract in another version in a very cute tone, “If I don’t work nicely with Miss X and Mrs. Y, mommy will not be happy.” Most therapists see that children on the spectrum tend to work to rules. The way that he elaborated the rule in a different way showed his language development in verbal comprehension.

As mommy was not always around in school, the program also taught the student the concept of inference and delayed gratification.

“The Happy Mommy” program is carried out effectively in the classroom as “mommy” works out as good as “money” in the adult’s world. “Mommy” (or even the mentioning of the term) is convenient, powerful, generalized, and rewarding like “money”. “She” will make the learner save and treasure “Her” beyond the physical environment.


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