Reinforcement vs Punishment

Did you know we use reinforcement and punishment all of the time, not just in ABA therapy?

Reinforcement and punishment are used everywhere to shape our own behaviors. In ABA therapy sessions with autistic clients, reinforcement is used more so than punishment because behavior analysts and RBTs (Registered Behavior Technicians) are focused on strengthening behaviors that are beneficial in an autistic individual’s life, such as social, communication, and daily living skills. Punishment teaches what kind of behaviors not to use daily. In the education system, teachers rely on punishment the most because students must follow classroom expectations. Of course, educators provide reinforcement when a student raises their hand to answer a question, but punishment is still relied on for students demonstrating behaviors of property destruction, touching others, etc. As an autistic RBT who graduated last year with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology with concentration in ABA, I will break down the difference between reinforcement and punishment deeper.

There are two types of reinforcement: positive and negative. Positive reinforcement means providing something in order to increase the likelihood of a behavior to occur more often. For example, my parents used to give an allowance after I would complete my chores for the day at home during my middle school years. Negative reinforcement means taking away something to increase likelihood of a behavior occurring more often. For instance, a teacher eliminates homework for the night after students accomplished a lot of work in class today. If this happens from the teacher, then students would be more productive in the classroom. All in all, reinforcement means a behavior increases due to an intervention.

Not only there are two types of reinforcement, but there are also two types of punishment: positive and negative. Positive punishment is adding something to decrease a behavior from occurring. For instance, a parent yelling at their child for bad behavior. Negative punishment is removing something pleasant or desirable from an individual to decrease a behavior from occurring. For example, a child named Kevin got a bad grade on their recent test. As a result, his parents took away his electronics. After this occurrence, Kevin will no longer get bad grades on tests in school. In sum, punishment means a behavior decreases due to an intervention.

Based on these contingencies, they are all followed after a behavior occurs. Now which kind of approach should be used? It depends on the context of the situation and things in the environment that trigger the behavior. Now how does reinforcement and punishment occur in your life everyday? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section!

My autism diagnosis

I wanted to share my story again towards receiving an autism diagnosis, since I gained a lot of new followers on my blog website and tomorrow being my 25th birthday:

I was around the age of 1 in this photo.

I was born in Brooklyn, NY on January 18th, 1998. After I turned one years old, my parents noticed I was not meeting developmental milestones compared to Samantha (my older sister). I was not verbally talking as the main sign, but there were other signs and symptoms. I did not want to play with anyone and was mainly in my own world. I did not react to anyone whenever my name was called. I had really hard times with changes in routine, like when going on different walking paths with my parents. My parents were concerned about me.

My pediatrician advised my parents to seek an audiologist for me. My parents took me to an audiologist because they thought I was deaf. The audiologist told my parents I was not deaf, and I had good hearing. My parents and I went back to my pediatrician, and they recommended my parents to take me to a neurologist. When I more than a year old, my parents took me to an neurologist. The neurologist examined me in Down State Hospital in Brooklyn, NY, where I was observed in a room. After being assessed, my mom received my official autism diagnosis in the mail on her birthday. This was ten days before my 2nd birthday in the year of 2000.

Was the process of getting an autism diagnosis tough for those who are autistic self-advocates? Was the process of getting an autism diagnosis tough for parents who got a diagnosis for their child? Share your experiences in the comments section!

Interview with Marissa Davila as a BCBA in ABA telehealth

Did you know there are ABA therapy companies who mainly use telehealth? Meet my first guest in the new year:

Photo Credits: Marissa Davila (Blanton Behavior Services LLC)

Marissa Davila is a behavior analyst and founder of Blanton Behavioral Services LLC. She is not like most behavior analysts who run their own ABA therapy company because she mainly provides telehealth for clients on the autism spectrum. Want to learn how to provide ABA telehealth therapy for autistic clients? Check out the guest interview I did with Marissa:

Do you have any questions or thoughts for Marissa about ABA telehealth therapy? Share your questions and thoughts in the comments section!

New year goals

Happy new year!

It’s that time of the year for autistic self-advocates and those who know someone with autism to create goals inorder to accomplish them this year. Want to learn how to set these goals? Here are the steps:

1. Make your goals achievable. This means to select realistic and age-appropriate goals while understanding your own abilities or your child’s own abilities inorder to achieve your goals this year.

  • For example, my goal last year was to move up with the school district I work for. First, I gained my ABA (registered behavior technician) certification inorder to gain experience providing ABA therapy for autistic clients. Next, I finished up my bachelor’s degree in psychology with concentration in ABA and graduated back in October of last year. Then, I researched on my school district’s website about job openings in which I can apply my ABA skills. I came across the special education behavior specialist position. I updated my resume with my college degree, ABA (registered behavior technician) certification, and other important experiences that would benefit me for the position. Fortunately, I came across a job fair event for the school district on their website that included an open interview for the special education behavior specialist position. Not only I applied for the job, but I also attended the job fair and went through the open job interview. Did I achieve my goal? Yes!! I start my special education behavior specialist position for the school district this month! So proud to be moving up and I’m beyond excited!!

2. Make your goals observable in which they can be measured. This means focus on what can be changed overtime while others can see your own progress or your child’s progress.

  • For instance, parents want their autistic child to help out with chores around the house this year, not just their siblings. When parents use a reinforcement system and notice their child engaging in chores around the house, progress is made. It could start out as one chore a month and then add on one/more chores each month as the child develops a routine. Their child’s growth is occurring as parents witness it. Families should be celebrating these achievements and all achievements of their child!

3. Create small objectives that lead to achieving the ultimate goal. This means to break down complex skills into small steps.

  • For example, are you an autistic self-advocate wanting to earn a driver’s license this year? I recommend practicing driving in your community first before going on the main roads in your town like major highways. Personally, I had to go through the 6 hour driving permit course with a driving school after I got my permit. Once completed that, I practiced with my parents prior to taking my road test a day after my 17th birthday, since my birthday fell on MLK day that year. Driving involves a lot of skills, so break them down inorder to accomplish the goal of earning a driver’s license.

4. Most importantly, celebrate your success of achieving a goal!

What goals do you have for this year? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Open letter to my middle school speech therapist: Mrs. Smith

Dear Mrs. Smith,

I hope retirement has been going well and hope you see this letter one day online. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have grown my social and communication skills. I’m so grateful you created a social skills program for students with disabilities when I was in middle school. I learned to express my needs when interacting with my family, friends, colleagues, etc. Plus, I learned to initiate conversations with people in general. Not only that, I’ve gained friendships and maintained them with many of my best friends today, and I’ve been in a wonderful relationship with my boyfriend of 3+ years. I will always keep the lessons I’ve learned in your social skills program and apply them into social situations.

If you knew me today, I’m not the same girl as you knew in middle school. Recently, I graduated from Purdue University Global with a Bachelor’s degree in Science of Psychology in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). I’ve been working as a paraprofessional for students with disabilities in a public school district in FL and just gained a new job in which I’ll be moving up with the same public school district. I start my new job as a special education (ESE) behavior specialist in January of the new year! Not only that, I passed an ABA exam earlier this year to gain a certification as a registered behavior technician (RBT). I’ve been providing ABA therapy as an RBT for autistic clients part time outside of the school district I work for full time. Not only that, I run my own professional business as a autistic self-advocate and blogger of my own website, “The World of Autism”. I’ve shared personal perspectives on the autism spectrum, informative stories for education purposes, and conducted guest interviews featuring peoples’ experiences with autism and those who know someone with autism. You are one of the many people in my life who helped me towards where I’m at today, and now I’m helping all in the neurodiverse community. Thank you for had been part of my life journey!

Best wishes,

Michelle Vinokurov

Overcoming the holiday season

The winter holidays can be so much fun! Although, a lot of autistic people deal with changes in routine, which causes them stress and other behaviors like meltdowns. How can you help an autistic person through the holiday season?

Here are some tools and ideas to help autistic people get through the holidays that occur in December:

  1. Create social stories about the holiday they celebrate
  2. Give warnings about the holiday is approaching
  3. Develop a visual schedule or checklist that shows what will be done prior to and on the holiday
    • For instance, create a checklist for what needs to be completed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
  4. Teach about leaving social situations and/or how to access support when an event during the holiday becomes overwhelming
  5. If traveling for the holidays, prepare with favorites like sensory toys and food
  6. Prepare others like family members for strategies to use to minimize anxiety/ behavioral incidents and to enhance participation
  7. Practice behavior expectations for the holidays
  8. Above all, know your loved one with autism

Do you think these tools and tips are helpful? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Interview with Kirt Manecke as an author and online course creator

Who knows someone who creates an online course based off a published book?

Meet the last guest on “The World of Autism” for 2022:

Kirt Manecke

Kirt Manecke is an author of a book that gained a testimonial from Dr. Temple Grandin! Not only that, his published book inspired him to create his own online course to help neurotypical and neurodivergent teens & young adults for employment. In this guest interview, we talked about the importance of social and job skills for gaining and maintaining employment. Check out the interview I did with Kirt:

Here is the link to Kirt’s website where you can purchase his book and online course:

Do you have any questions you want to ask Kirt about his book and online course? Share your questions in the comments section! I’ll get him to answer any questions you have about his book and online course that was not answered in the guest interview with him.

Beating misconceptions about ASD

I cannot even begin to tell you how many misconcpetions there are about autism spectrum disorder (ASD). I listed themost common misconceptions about ASD here:

  1. Children with autism grow out of their autistic traits when they are older.
  2. All autistic people live with savant syndrome.
  3. Autistic people never listen because they do not show eye contact.
  4. All individuals with autism have co-occurring disabilities.
  5. Autism is caused by vaccines.
  6. Autistic people do not feel love and are unwilling to form social relationships.

These are some of the many misconceptions about ASD, but I shared the most common ones around today. Now let me tell you the truth about ASD from my own experiences and for others in the autism community. People can be diagnoised with autism at any age, and autism never goes away. Autism is part of an individual once diagnoised for life. The causes of autism are still not known directly today, but more research is coming out about its development as early as a person’s birth. It is possible that an autistic person will live with more than one disability, but not everyone does. It varies from one individual to another. The point is that autism is a spectrum, so people with autism live with different challenges and abilities. By telling an autistic individual that they are not listening just because they are not showing eye contact and that they are unable to feel love and form social relationships can cause negative impacts on an individual’s life. Let’s understand and accept how autistic people adapt in the world as much they learn how to adapt in our world from us.

What are your thoughts on these misconceptions? Do you still hear them today like I do? Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments section!

Providing choices/Choice making

Did you know when you provide autistic people with choices that it teaches them various skills?

During ABA therapy sessions, behavior analysts and RBTs should allow autistic client to choose which programs they want to work on. It allows autistic clients to lead their learning while behavior analysts and RBTs are getting goals accomplished from their clients’ behavior intervention plans (BIPs). For example, I ask my client if they want to work on having a conversation or answering yes/no questions. From there, my client chooses what they want to learn today, such as answering yes/no questions. By allowing autistic clients to choose what they want to learn, it will decrease problematic behaviors overtime while increase their independence and various skills, such as social and communication skills. By providing choices, more learning occurs during ABA therapy sessions. How can you provide choices for autistic clients during ABA therapy sessions?

  1. Use visuals! This can be done by creating a choice board for young autistic clients or a check list for older autistic clients. Both a choice and a checklist can be incorporated based on an autistic clients’ individual needs.
  2. Schedule times for choice making! If you got an autistic client who is starting to learn about choosing activities, incorporate it during their free time. Eventually, it can be expanded to their daily routine of programs during ABA therapy sessions.

Now when should we provide choices for autistic clients?

Providing choices can be applied throughout a daily routine! I encourage behavior analysts and RBTs to have their autistic clients choose activities from their programs to work on in order to be proactive participants in their learning process. Also, choice making can be a reinforcer, as well as a desired behavior associated with other reinforcers. For example, when an autistic client responds appropriately with choosing an activity from their programs to work on, an RBT or behavior analyst allows the client to play with a computer for 5 minutes before working on their chosen activity or program. Providing choices should occur gradually based on the student’s needs and level of functioning. When more opportunities of choices are provided, then autistic clients will grow with various skills.

Now that you learned the importance about providing choices, it is time to let autistic clients choose how their learning occurs during ABA therapy sessions. They can become pro-active participants in their progress and growth! Would you want to start providing choices for your autistic client during ABA therapy sessions? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Keys to a fun Thanksgiving

It’s about to be Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving can be an exciting and fun holiday, but it can be stressful for autistic people at the same time. Do you want to know some ways to help an autistic person have a good and fun Thanksgiving? Here are some ways to help out:

  1. Give a heads up that thanksgiving is approaching! It is important to teach autistic people about this holiday ahead of time and how the holiday goes, so they are aware of some expectations that occur during the holiday. Personally, I recall my parents telling me that we will have cousins over to celebrate the holiday, so we need to prepare food and set up the table for family when everyone is over.
  2. Create a sensory space in the house for an autistic person to take a break in. Autistic people have the right to take a break from the regular environment, so they can focus on their own mental health. As you may know, a lot of autistic people have co-occurring conditions like mental illness due to lack of break from regular environment or routine. Holidays like Thanksgiving can get overwhelming for autistic people, so respect that they need a break and will come back into the regular environment when ready to.
  3. Do not force an autistic person to do anything! This can be from eating just all new food to sitting with everyone at the table during Thanksgiving. It’s enough as it is that some autistic people feel stressed during holidays, so remember to adapt to them as much as they do with the world. There needs to be a fair ground and compromises must be made.

What are some other ways to help autistic people for Thanksgiving?

Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section!

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