Applied Behavior Analysis

Use the vignettes below and identify a differential reinforcement procedure that is most appropriate for each of these situations and type of behavior to address the problem, and describe your procedures (include the specific DR procedure and why, data collection methods, type of reinforcement and the procedure, and hypothetical data depicting baseline and intervention outcomes.) 

Behavior problem: 

1. Jack is a five year old Kindergarten student diagnosed with high functioning autism who hits and kicks peers in close proximity when sitting on the floor during circle time and while lining up to transition to other settings. Baseline data indicate that the student hits or kicks his peers approximately every 70 seconds. Jack is highly reinforced by jumping on the trampoline in the classroom. 

2. Marie is a 30 year old with a diagnosis of a mild developmental disability who attends an adult day program performing assembly tasks for pay per item assembled in accordance with the standards needed to sell the items to a client company. She recently has shown a reduction in her hourly production rates which has resulted in reduced paychecks as well as reduced revenues for the day program as a result of fewer assembled products. 

3. Jen is a 14 year old with a diagnosis of autism who has been having difficulty completing her morning routine and getting to her bus in time to go to school. This has resulted in conflicts between Jen and her parents as well as resulting in her having to drive her to school, making her late for work. Her parents would like to increase her proficiency and speed with getting up in the morning and completing her morning routine and getting the bus on time. 

4. Tom is a 15 year old with diagnoses of ADHD and difficulty with impulse control who tends to call out in class without being called on by the teacher or raising his hand. Due to the high frequency of the behavior (average of 15 times per hour), it seems complete elimination of the behavior may not be the best short-term approach. Hence, the IEP team has requested behavior consultation services to reduce the problem behavior to an “acceptable” rate per hour.

Differential Reinforcement Procedure

Case 1

Jack is suffering from autism spectrum disorder. Though he can do much independently, his social skills are underdeveloped (Matson, 2009). The most appropriate technique to implement is Differential Reinforcement of Other Behaviors (DRO) (O’Donohue & Fisher, 2009). Under this technique, a student is reinforced (rewarded) for each time that a behavior that is not desirable is not displayed within a designated period. Jack, who has a habit of kicking other students every 70 seconds, will be differentially reinforced if he does not display the behavior within 70 seconds. However, the approach is positive, and the teacher is not to induce any kind of punishment.

Data is to be collected by direct observation of Jack’s behavior pattern. The teacher should spell out to Jack the kind of reward he will receive as the first way to induce behavior change. Frequency count is to be conducted to figure out whether the introduction of a reward is reducing the occurrence of the behavior. The reward will be based on a pre-set time interval that Jack must be able to withhold the undesirable behavior of kicking and hitting other students. If the behavior prevails within the designated period, it will signify the commencement of another interval. Due to Jack’s young age, the teacher would consider restraining the behavior, e.g., by holding his hands and/or legs while telling him not to kick or hit other children.

He should also be allowed sufficient time on the trampoline to ease his state. The above procedure should be able to reduce his kicking intervals gradually from every 70 seconds to 3 minutes, 10 minutes, and so on, until the behavior is completely eradicated.

Figure 1: Column representation of reduction of occurrences of undesirable behavior in 10-minute intervals in one hour of assessment following the introduction of a reward

From the table above, the designated period for observation is 10 minutes. During the first interval, Jack is observed to display the undesirable behavior of hitting other students every 70 seconds, totaling nine times. However, once the differential procedure is initiated, the total counts are reduced to 7 times. With the continuous implementation of the procedure during four more intervals, the overall number of occurrences reduces to 2.

Case 2

Developmental disabilities give rise to disorders that could result in physical impairments, speech disorders, medical conditions, and intellectual disabilities (Odom, Horner, & Snell, 2009). With Marie having been diagnosed with a mild developmental disorder, the pre-mentioned conditions could greatly affect her productivity at work. In her case, the best technique to implement is Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behaviors (DRI) (Malott & Shane, 2015). Here, the better and desirable behavior is reinforced to curb the undesirable behavior. Previously, Marie was achieving the desirable production rates until recently, when her rates dropped significantly, bringing about negative implications.

Rather than punishing her for a reduced number of assembled items, Marie could be rewarded for achieving a set target of the number of items she should assemble daily. Data is to be collected by counting the number of items she is currently assembling. A target is then set on the expected number, which is communicated to her. She is also to be notified of the reward she is to receive for hitting the target. The best reinforcement could be receiving a 10% increment of her total dues on hitting the target. This will be enough motivation for her to hit the target.

Assuming she had been previously assembling 30 items per day and later dropped to the current number, which could be 18, a target of 27 items could be set. It could be easily achieved with the provision of the reinforcement mentioned above.

In the graph below, it is to be noted that initially, a 1% wage increase was implemented on Marie’s wage. She was able to raise the number of items that she assembled by 1 as the process was continuously repeated; with the percentage increment going up to 10%, she hit the target of 28 items set for her.

Figure 2: Graphical representation of increased items assembled in pursuance of the wage increase.

Case 3

The diagnosis of Jen with autism signifies that various autism spectrum disorders prevail in her life. Therefore, they are why she has trouble with the on-time completion of morning routines and getting to the bus on time. The use of Differential Reinforcement of Lower Rates of Behavior (DRL) (Boutot & Tincani, 2009) will therefore help in the reduction in the frequency of undesirable behavior (Boutot & Tincani, 2009). Jen’s parents should determine the average time that she spends on the completion of her morning routine. Assuming she spends 120 minutes conducting her morning routines, they should inform her that for any morning that the average time spent lowers by 10 minutes than the previous day, there is a reward for her, possibly a candy or her favorite snack.

Jen will perform her routines faster as she desires to receive the reward, gradually increasing her speed. With time, she will even be able to catch the school bus, and her mother will no longer have to drive to school, thus no more interruptions in her work schedule.

Figure 3: Graphical representation of reduced time spent in routine morning activities according to a daily reward.

From the graph above, during the first day that the differential reinforcement was introduced, Jen significantly reduced the time spent in the morning by five minutes. Following subsequent implementation in the following days, she was able to reach a desirable preparation time of 30 minutes in the eighth day.

Case 4

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a brain malfunctioning condition characterized by recurrent patterns of poor attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity (Millichap, 2009), as evident in Tom. Due to the high frequency of undesirable behavior, the best technique to reduce such behavior would be Differential Reinforcement of Lower Rates of Behavior (DRL) (Boutot & Tincani, 2009). The member of the IEP team in charge of Tom should inform him of the number of times per hour he calls out in class without the teacher’s permission, 15 to be precise.

Data is to be collected by direct observation and count of the frequency of the undesirable behavior. Tom should then be informed that a reward will be presented to him for each hour he reduces the frequency of the behavior by 1. Whenever Tom hits the mentioned target, the promised reinforcement should be availed, and then the incidents’ allowable frequency is lowered until the team hits an acceptable level. The reward could be a biscuit, candy, or any snack observed as Tom’s favorite.

The graph below shows that the results of implementing the differential reinforcement mentioned can be visualized. Initially, Tom displayed the undesirable behavior 15 times per hour. Following the introduction of a reward, the frequency goes down to three times per hour in the 10th hour, thus showing the effectiveness of this procedure.

Figure 4: Graphical representation of Tom’s hourly reduction of behavior frequency in pursuance of a reward.


Boutot, E. A., & Tincani, M. (2009). Autism Encyclopedia: The Complete Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorders. Sourcebooks, Inc.

Malott, R., & Shane, J. T. (2015). Principles of Behavior: Seventh Edition. Psychology Press.

Matson, J. L. (2009). Applied Behavior Analysis for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Springer Science & Business Media.

Millichap, J. G. (2009). Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Handbook: A Physician’s Guide to ADHD (2 ed.). Springer Science & Business Media.

Odom, S. L., Horner, R. H., & Snell, M. E. (2009). Handbook of Developmental Disabilities. Guilford Press.

O’Donohue, W. T., & Fisher, J. E. (2009). General Principles and Empirically Supported Techniques of Cognitive Behavior Therapy. John Wiley & Sons.