The Power of Pairing: Reinforcers with Visual Supports

  • Situation

    I have used a variety of Behavior stories and have had variable success. Do you have any ideas as to how to increase the likelihood of positive outcomes for the behaviors the stories are trying to increase or decrease?

  • Summary

    Using visual supports such as Behavior stories to increase or decrease behaviors can be a very powerful tool. But to increase the effectiveness of these supports, try incorporating a student’s special interest area (SIA) within the tool and pair with a reinforcer. Reinforcers can also be based on the students SIA and/or can include motivators known to the teacher or parent, or can be determined with the student’s input. This answer provides examples.

  • Definition

    Visual supports and/or Behavior stories can include references to the student’s special interests, and include pictures of favorite characters from movies, T.V., or ‘inventors’ of their favorite video game. Utilizing these motivators may increase the power of the story or the visual tool because it is now individualized rather than a generic visual or story.   Pairing the visual or story with a reinforcer may further increase the probability of successful outcomes – increasing appropriate behavior and decreasing negative behavior.

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 3-5, 6-10, 11-13, 14-17, 18+
    • Planning Effort: Moderate
    • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Pre-requisites

    Knowledge of student’s motivators

    Knowledge of student’s special interest areas/characters/people

    Access to images of Special Interest characters or activities

  • Process

    1. Determine your student or child’s motivators and Special Interest characters.

    2. Create your visual or story to include the child’s Special Interest character or adapt a generic story that has been made already.

    3. Within the story, include reinforcers the student may have access to when he/she displays the replacement behavior (the behavior you want to see).

    4. Consider having the student provide input for the reinforcers within the story by providing lines for the student to ‘fill in’ or dictate to the teacher/parent.

    5. Consider adding a visual ‘reminder card’ at the end of the story. This card can be cut out and provided for the student to have at all times – (inspired by: Power Cards by Elisa Gagnon)

    6. For example, reinforcers that can be delivered immediately upon demonstration of the appropriate behavior are “collector cards” of the student’s special interest area/characters. (similar to tokens in a basic token system) These can be made by copying and pasting the image inside text boxes. They can be printed on cardstock and laminated, or simply cut, pasted and photocopied on a color copier. Find examples on the links below, including a blank template page.

  • Documents and Related Resources

    The Watson Institute (website collection of behavior stories) (Possible website to purchase resource)

    Sample Story with SIA reinforcers and reminder card (Geronimo) (Word document)

    Sample story – Student picks reinforcers or consequences (Word document)

    Sample Story with reminder card & reinforcers (Barbie) (Word document)

    Sample collector cards (Barbie and cats) (Word document)

    Collector Cards Templates (Word document)

    From Tarantulas to Toilet Brushes: Understanding the Special Interest Areas of Children and Youth…(PDF article)


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