Consequences Aren't Always a Bad Thing

In everyday life, the word “consequence” has a pretty negative association with it. When we think of this word, we usually think about the aversive consequences for bad behavior--Getting a ticket for speeding on the highway, or getting grounded after a bad grade on a test. In ABA speak, consequence means something different! A consequence is any change (good or bad) in the environment following a behavior that makes the behavior more or less likely to happen. I know...a little confusing at first, but stick with us, we’re about to explain it all.


Ever heard the phrase “Every action has a consequence”? Well, it’s true, especially in our world. Every time anyone engages in a behavior, something happens after that will either reinforce the behavior (makes it happen more), or punishes it (makes it happen less). Sometimes these consequences are contrived, such as giving someone a gold star after doing a nice job, or taking away their Gameboy after talking back. Other times these consequences are natural, such as being tired after running, or getting your finger caught when slamming a door. Either way, these behaviors are either going to happen more often or less often as a result. Here are some examples of how this process works:


Behavior

You go to work every day!

Consequence (Reinforcement / Punishment)

You get paid money on Friday, and get praise from your boss.

Result

You continue going to work the following week. (Reinforcement)

Behavior

You pay money to a massage therapist at the spa.

Consequence (Reinforcement / Punishment)

The massage hurts and is not pleasant.

Result

You do not continue getting massages. (Punishment)

Behavior

You try a new flavor of ice cream!

Consequence (Reinforcement / Punishment)

It tastes delicious!

Result

You continue purchasing that flavor of ice cream. (Reinforcement)

Behavior

You leave your garbage in the kitchen trash can before leaving on vacation.

Consequence (Reinforcement / Punishment)

When you come back, it smells very stinky in your house.

Result

You stop leaving the trash in your kitchen when leaving on vacation. (Punishment)


Think of some ways that you have either rewarded (reinforced) or decreased (punished) the behaviors that happen around you! Are you encouraging the behaviors that you want to see? Behaviorism focuses on using positive reinforcement as our primary consequence to behaviors--that means that we spend time adding something good after a behavior that we want to increase, or see more of. While punishment procedures are effective, we can use positive reinforcement to teach appropriate replacement behaviors. Replacement behaviors still give us access to the things that we want, but in a more appropriate manner. An example of this would be reinforcing (rewarding) the behavior of saying “excuse me” to get your attention, instead of just punishing them for yelling for your attention. . Instead of focusing on punishing people for what we don’t want to see, we reward them for what we do want to see! This motivation and reinforcement can be faded out gradually over time, and eventually becomes intrinsic.


Now, I'm sure you're wondering how do we at InBloom motivate your kid? Well, that depends on your kid! Not every person is motivated by the same thing. We often use preference assessments to find out what items your child is already most motivated by. That data translates into a list of items we can use for different tasks, depending on difficulty. Here are some examples of different ways reinforcement is used in a typical ABA therapy session:

Behavior

Johnny points to the “Break Card” when he is ready for a break instead of screaming.

Consequence (Reinforcers)

The therapist takes Johnny to the playroom for a break on the trampoline! The therapist praises him for asking nicely.

Result

Your child is more likely to appropriately request a break by using appropriate communication tools.

Behavior

Max does a great job saying the names of food he is learning to label!

Consequence (Reinforcers)

The RBT gives him a high five, and tell him “Way to go! You did it all by yourself!”

Result

Your kiddo continues striving to earn that praise by learning to label food correctly.

Behavior

Your child has had a really great day of working hard with no crying or hitting!

Consequence (Reinforcers)

Your child gets to choose the last activity--Dance party or playing with trains. She picks Trains!

Result

She is more motivated to engage in appropriate behaviors to gain access to her favorite activities.

Behavior

Your child completes all of the steps for brushing his teeth!

Consequence (Reinforcers)

We give your child a star! When he gets 5 stars total, he can trade them in for the iPad.

Result

Your child’s behavior of following each of the steps to brush his teeth will continue!


Reinforcement happens more often than we think--It’s the reason why we all keep doing the things we do! Keep an eye out this week for some of those awesome behaviors that are happening around you. What can you add to the environment (after the behavior) to reinforce the behavior, and make it happen again?

804 views