1. Summary of the Verbal Behavioral Approach (reinforcement techniques in ABA)

2. DTT (Discrete trial teaching)

3. Acquiring and maintaining instructional control

4. Positive renforcement vs positive punishment

5. Negative reinforcement

6. Schedules

1. Summary of the Verbal Behavioral Approach

Mary R. Barbera details in the book “The Verbal Behavior Approach” a therapy focused on verbal behaviors, focusing on the development of reinforcers to facilitate learning and behavior change in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other neurodevelopmental disorders. 2 main categories of reinforcers are identified: primary reinforcers and secondary reinforcers, discussing the importance of identifying effective reinforcers for each individual based on their unique interests, preferences, and motivations. Primary reinforcers are innate and biologically determined, such as food, water, and physical contact. Secondary reinforcers, on the other hand, are learned through association with primary reinforcers and can include social praise, tokens, and other conditioned stimuli.

Strategies for developing new reinforcers include pairing existing reinforcers with new stimuli to expand the individual’s repertoire of reinforcers (less preferred items with highly preferred items), identifying and assessing individual preferences (the authors suggest using a token economy system, in which individuals earn tokens for performing desired behaviors and can then exchange those tokens for preferred items or activities), observing behavior, using contingent access to preferred items, and providing reinforcers immediately following the desired behavior. Using successive approximations, gradually increasing the complexity of the behavior to reinforce new skills and abilities is also very useful.                 Some key characteristics of effective reinforcers are related to the speed with which they are delivered (immediacy), their magnitude (the size of the reinforcer), and their contingency (the degree to which they are linked to the target behavior). The greater the variety, the better to maintain the individual’s interest and motivation. Certain types of reinforcers, such as food and toys, can create problem behaviors such as food hoarding or object fixation, requiring monitoring and adjusting reinforcers as needed to promote positive, adaptive behaviors. In maintaining the effectiveness of reinforcers over time, it should be noted the overuse that leads to the individual becoming tired of them.

2. DTT (Discrete trial teaching)

Discrete trial teaching (DTT) is a highly structured teaching method commonly used in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) interventions. According to Chapter 5 of “Motivation and Reward”, the technique proposes breaking down complex behaviors into discrete, manageable components and teaching each component separately.

Various components of a DTT trial include the antecedent (the instruction or prompt given to the learner), the behavior (the response given by the learner), and the consequence (the reinforcement or feedback given to the learner based on their response). DTT is typically used to teach specific skills or behaviors, such as language, social skills, or academic skills.

               Few aspects to consider:

  • the need to fade prompts over time in order to promote independent learning
  • discuss the importance of providing reinforcement immediately following correct responses in order to promote learning and maintain motivation.
  • variations of DTT, including massed trials (where multiple trials of the same behavior are presented in a row) and mixed trials (where different behaviors are presented in a randomized order) – appropriate for different learners based on their individual needs and abilities.
  • Has potential limitations due to its highly structured nature and potential for rote learning, requiring it to be used in conjunction with other teaching methods and individualized instruction in order to promote the most effective learning outcomes.

3. Acquiring and maintaining instructional control

Emphasize on the use of naturally occurring events and stimuli to promote learning have brought to light more naturalistic teaching methods, including pivot response training (PRT) and incidental teaching, both of which focus on promoting motivation and self-initiated learning. (Chapter 6 of “Motivation and Reward”). Few of the considerations are related to:

  • importance of incorporating learner interests and preferences (effective for learners who may not respond well to highly structured instruction)
  • importance of using appropriate reinforcement strategies, such as social praise or access to favorite activities, to maintain motivation and promote learning.
  • key components of naturalistic teaching methods, include the use of functional communication training (FCT) to promote language development and the use of environmental manipulations to promote problem-solving and decision-making skills.
  • importance of promoting generalization of skills across settings and situations.
  • They outline seven steps to achieve this goal:
    • Build Rapport: Establishing a positive relationship with the student is the first step in gaining control of instruction. Building rapport can involve getting to know the learner, finding common interests and establishing a relationship of trust.
    • Define clear expectations: Clearly defining expectations and setting boundaries can help establish teacher authority and increase learner compliance.
    • Provide clear instructions: Providing clear and concise instructions can help ensure the learner understands what is expected of them and increase compliance.
    • Use positive reinforcement: Using positive reinforcement, such as social praise or access to favorite activities, can increase motivation and compliance.
    • Use corrective feedback: Providing corrective feedback in a calm, non-punitive manner can help maintain control and redirect inappropriate behavior.
    • Use time-out procedures: Time-out procedures can be used as a consequence of inappropriate behavior, but should be used sparingly and with caution.
    • Monitor progress and adjust strategies: Monitoring progress and adjusting strategies as needed can help ensure that the teacher maintains control of instruction and promotes optimal learning outcomes. Overall, these seven steps can help teachers establish and maintain instructional control while promoting positive learning outcomes in naturalistic teaching methods.
  • Some of the method limitations are related to limited educational control and the difficulty of targeting specific behaviors, however used concomitantly with other techniques, the use of technology and the integration of cognitive-behavioral approaches it has higher potential

4. Positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is the process of adding a desired stimulus following a behavior to increase the frequency of that behavior in the future. (where positive punishment involves adding an aversive stimulus following a behavior in order to decrease the frequency of that behavior – reprimands, response blocking, and contingent electrical stimulation – often less effective through production of unintended side effects such as aggression and escape behavior).

               The key principles of positive reinforcement techniques in ABA, include the importance of identifying the target behavior, selecting the appropriate reinforcer, and providing the reinforcer immediately after the behavior. (Chapter 11 of “Applied Behavior Analysis”)

               Types of reinforcers include primary, conditioned, and generalized reinforcers. Primary reinforcers are naturally rewarding stimuli such as food and water, while conditioned reinforcers are learned through association with the primary reinforcers. Generalized reinforcers are stimuli that have been combined with a variety of different primary and conditioned reinforcers and are therefore highly effective in a wide range of situations.


  • potential for satiation (when the reinforcer loses its effectiveness over time)
  • the importance of fading the use of reinforcement over time, and the need to monitor the overall effectiveness of reinforcement. time schedule.
  • most effective when used in conjunction with other techniques such as extinction and punishment
  • conducting a functional assessment of behavior to identify the underlying cause and develop an effective behavior modification plan.

5. Negative reinforcement

Negative reinforcement is the process of removing an aversive stimulus following a behavior in order to increase the frequency of that behavior in the future. The negative reinforcement involves the removal of an aversive stimulus, while punishment involves the addition of an aversive stimulus.

Types of aversive stimuli that can be used in negative reinforcement include physical discomfort, social isolation, and exposure to unpleasant stimuli. Considerations:

  • importance of gradually increasing reinforcement requirements over time.
  • risk of creating escape behaviors and the potential for the aversive stimulus to lose its effectiveness over time.

6. Schedules

               There are two main categories of reinforcement programs: continuous reinforcement and intermittent reinforcement. Continuous reinforcement involves the delivery of a reinforcer after each occurrence of the target behavior and can be very effective in shaping new behavior, whereas intermittent reinforcement involves the delivery of a reinforcer after only some of the occurrences of the behavior and can be more effective in maintaining established behavior over time.

               Different types of intermittent schedules include fixed-ratio, variable-ratio, fixed-interval, and variable-interval schedules. Potential drawbacks of reinforcement schedules, including the risk of satiation (when the reinforcer loses its effectiveness over time) and the potential for behavior to become dependent on the schedule of reinforcement.


  • Mery Lynch Barbera, (2007), The Verbal Behavior Approach – How to teach children with Autism and Related Disorder, Jessica Kingsley Publishers
  • Robert Schramm, (2016), Motivation and Reward, Frontiera
  • John. Cooper, Timothy E. Heron, William L. Heward, (2016), Applied behavior analysis, 2nd edition, Bucharest
  • Counselling families with an ASD child

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Camelia Krupp

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