Does ABA work on typical kids?

by rickcolosimo on February 21, 2011

I enjoy reading Eric Barker’s blog because he cites to published research on interesting topics. I think his tagline should be: “not what you thought.”

This post questions the wisdom of using rewards to encourage desired behavior, namely eating vegetables. It caught my eye for lots of reasons:

  1. School’s been expanding my older son’s menu for months
  2. I’ve been using the same techniques on my younger neurotypical son
  3. My family adopted ABA as our primary method of helping Dylan after a research review yielded no reliable support for any other technique

So, seeing someone question the efficacy of a fundamental ABA tool, positive reinforcement, seems a little funny. But as my readers know, I am a huge fan of this quote from Milton: “I will not praise a fugitive or cloistered virtue.”

In my mind, science is a method, not an answer. So I welcome any research that helps us figure out how to help kids like mine.

Oh, and of course the answer is that reinforcement improves behavior more than no reinforcement, and although focusing on eating vegetables without reinforcement improved behavior for a few months, after three months the un-reinforced kids showed no difference from before the experiment began. Put differently, failure to reinforce meant that the efforts lasted less than three months.

So reinforce, reinforce, reinforce desired behavior. It works on everyone.

Do you have a story about using ABA principles on your NT kids, or, for extra credit, coworkers or bosses? Share your stories in the comments!

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