While teens with autism may struggle with understanding social norms, positive reinforcement can help them learn social rules without feeling shame or embarrassment. Teens with autism benefit from developing routines, but often follow them rigidly and struggle with perceived sudden changes to their routine. It is important to set clear expectations to minimize confusion; however, expectations that are too rigid discourage flexible thinking. In addition to feedback from others, self-assessments help teens with autism move away from seeing themselves in black-and-white—right or wrong, good or bad—and encourage them to advocate for themselves.
Negative Reinforcement vs. Positive Reinforcement For Teens With Autism
Positive and negative do not mean good and bad. Instead, positive means you are adding something, and negative means you are taking something away. Reinforcement means you are increasing a behavior, and punishment means you are decreasing a behavior. Reinforcement can be positive or negative, and punishment can also be positive or negative.
The most effective way to teach teens new skills is with positive reinforcement, where a desirable goal is added to increase the likelihood of a new behavior. While many parents think it sounds unrealistic to consistently reward “good behavior,” there are many different types of rewards that aren’t material.
Setting personal goals empowers teens to make positive choices to help themselves reach them. Rather than relying on external validation and goals created for them by other people, self-assessments help teens monitor their own progress with personal goals.
While many programs use a Level System to symbolize therapeutic progress, we do not believe it should be that linear. By using a daily points system, teens with autism are better able to follow concrete expectations and compare their progress from day to day. Level systems are often abstract measures of progress over time that can be difficult to conceptualize.
Our points system is collaborative, meaning that students pool their points to earn fun group activities. This reduces competition and comparisons between them and helps them to see how their behaviors affect others. In addition to pursuing personal goals, relationships are at the foundation of this approach.
There are often discrepancies between how teens with autism view themselves and how others view them. As they may struggle with effectively communicating their thoughts and feelings, other people’s perceptions of their progress are not always accurate. Though staff keep track of daily points, they always ask students for their input.
This helps teens with autism build self-awareness around areas of growth and stand up for themselves when they feel proud of something they’ve accomplished. As treatment plans are individualized for every student, personal successes vary from student to student. Encouraging teens to collaborate with their treatment team in setting personal goals and giving themselves feedback helps them feel more in control.
Instead of following a standardized academic curriculum, students are given Independent Study packets by an accredited school that we work with to allow them to learn at their own pace. This reduces comparison between students and allows them to receive individualized attention when they ask for help. Rather than feeling pressure to meet academic standards, this personalized approach rewards individual progress.
Why This Approach Works
Using positive reinforcement helps teens gain autonomy and empowers them to make positive choices for themselves without relying on external validation. Taking away privileges and inconsistency in relationships can have a significant impact on their self-esteem and self-efficacy, or their confidence in their ability to achieve goals. Positive reinforcement teaches teens that their behavior has an impact on their future personal success and motivates them to set personal goals.
Discover Seven Stars Can Help
Seven Stars RTC is a residential program for teens ages 13-17 struggling with Autism-related issues. The program provides acute care stabilization, residential treatment, academic programs, adventure-based therapy, skill building, and positive psychology. These various programs and therapies help students to improve their confidence, self-awareness, and personal management. Seven Stars provides students with individualized access to the resources they need to transition to the real-world practicing healthier habits and self-control. We can help your family today!
Contact us at 844-601-1167 for more information about positive reinforcement for teens with autism.
Since 2003, Dr. Gordon Day has passionately helped young people with a wide range of family, emotional, social, neurodevelopmental and behavioral problems. Gordon’s mission has been to help people find their strengths and their own passion for living a full and rewarding life. He is particularly sensitive to the pressures, frustrations and disappointments that adolescents face that can sometimes cause them and their loved ones to want to withdraw and throw their hands up in despair.
Dr. Day knows that you really have to understand where a student is coming from and understand their patterns of strengths and needs. When we truly know an individual and their struggles, only then can we truly help.
Dr. Day has pioneered the use of outdoor therapy activities and outdoor living as a dynamic and effective therapeutic tool for learning, confidence building and skill building. His programs provide effective, supportive and encouraging environments that help students find their strengths and power.