Pairing with Reinforcement

Pairing with Reinforcement

Start Off Pairing & Never Stop!

One of the very first things an RBT Autism Therapist will be asked to do when they start working with a new client, is Pairing. ‘Pairing’ is a technical ABA term which refers to the process of pairing yourself with reinforcement. The goal of Pairing is for your client to equate you with preferred items, enjoyable activities and having an all-around great time!

Typically the first few weeks of Autism Therapy, will involve pure Pairing. For successful Pairing, you will want to spend time getting to know what your client enjoys and join them in whatever activity they chose to do. Taking them to the park to swing, chasing them in the backyard, giving them endless tickles or singing their favorite song over and over, are all examples of things to do during Pairing. This is also a great time to introduce your new client to your ‘bag of tricks’ filled with toys, books, games, bubbles and anything else you think they might be interested in. This ‘bag of tricks’ will arrive and go home with you, that way your client will Pair these items with you.

Pair yourself with reinforcement by delivering reinforcers for “free”. This means that the child is not required to ‘do’ anything to get access to reinforcement. The only requirement should be that the client is not displaying any problem behavior. For example, the client can be given edibles (like cereal) while playing with you as long as he/she in not crying. The most important thing to remember is that the client should always have to go through you to get to the reinforcer. In the clients eyes, their world should always get better when you are around. Pairing does not stop after the first few weeks. Pairing intermittently during each ABA session will continue for ever.  Terrific Pairing will enhance the learning environment by increasing your clients’ motivation to learn which will in-turn lead to greater progress to goals. In addition, your young clients will enjoy their ABA therapy and remember it fondly for the rest of their lives.

Please photograph one of the therapists at Kennedy Krieger Institute working with a child. The story is for the federal workplace pa

How you know you’ve successfully paired with a client: 

  • When you arrive your client will smile and run to you, instead of cry and run away
  • You may start feeling like one big toy – being told to do this, play that, or becoming a jungle gym for them to climb all over
  • Your client will want to stay with you throughout your therapy session even when demands start to be placed on them

Bonding initially with your client creates a foundation for success. Pairing increases the chances that once it’s time to begin placing demands on your client (giving instructions), they will engage in fewer maladaptive behaviors and more learning can take place. It’s important to remember when introducing demands, that this happens slowly with simple tasks while gradually working your way up to more challenging tasks. It’s also crucial that pairing NEVER STOP. Even after the initial pairing process, when your child-therapist relationship is well established, you need to designate some time, during each session, to play with your client. Place no demands, just play. This will ensure that you remain a favorite friend to your student.

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