How to Reinforce and Promote Positive Behavior

Reinforcement – receiving something preferred or taking away something non-preferred following a response – increases the likelihood that the response will repeat or continue. Students earn an “A” when they do outstanding work in class. Workers get paid to do their jobs and might even get a raise if they perform above and beyond. For students on the autism spectrum, reinforcements are an important strategy for promoting positive behavior and decreasing challenging behavior. According to new League School’s Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) Kait Hendrickx, they can be used to:


  • Schoolwork completion
  • Wash hands
  • Eat new foods
  • Raise hands to ask a question


  • Math
  • Safety rules
  • Personal hygiene skills


  • Sharing
  • Conversation
  • Safe behavior
  • Manners
  • Patience

Unlike bribery when you give something of value to someone who misbehaves, reinforcing is when you give something of value after you’ve outlined what the person needs to do to earn it. Common reinforcer examples include:

  • Electronic screens (e.g., iPad, phone, or TV time)
  • Praise
  • Treats (Kait recommends small amounts to maintain student health)
  • Allowance for completing a chore
  • Other fun activities, such as free time, walking, and toys

How often and how much reward you give a student for positive behaviors depends on how difficult the task is and the student’s abilities. Kait suggests that if your student is learning a new skill that you split the task into smaller sections and give rewards for completing each step. Similarly, if the task is difficult for the child, reinforce positive behavior frequently. If the student already knows appropriate behavior, such as saying “thank you” and “please,” reinforce the behavior randomly.  

To set up a reinforcement system at home, Kait recommends that the parent and student preview tasks and rewards. Talk about the rules that the student needs to follow in order to get the reinforcer. Let your child pick the reward for a particular activity, and be sure to give the student the reinforcer upon completion. For example, participating in a Zoom class from home is the student’s task. Rules include paying attention when the instructor is talking and raising your hand to ask a question. The reward upon successful completion is an hour of free time.

Kait suggests using visual reminders of the rules (see example). She also recommends using apps. Some of her recommendations include:

  • Choiceworks
  • Lists To-do
  • Class Timetable
  • First Then Visual Schedule HD

In September, Kait held a virtual presentation for parents. You can watch Kait’s Scheduling Reinforcement presentation on YouTube. Kait recommends that parents contact their student’s BCBA for individual suggestions.

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Tim McCabe, Director of Development.

Tim McCabe

Tim McCabe is the Director of Development for League School of Greater Boston.