Tip of the Week: Using Differential Reinforcement of High Rates of Behavior to Increase Preferred Behaviors

Differential Reinforcement of High Rates of Behavior (DRH) is “reinforcing only after several responses occur at or above a pre-established rate” (Mayer, Sulzer-Azaroff, & Wallace, 2013). There are times when a behavior is already in a student’s repertoire, but you may want to increase the rate of the behavior.

Mother Waking SonFor example, let’s say Harold frequently won’t get up independently on weekdays before school. It’s driving his parents crazy, because they have to drag him out of bed several days a week. You may set up a DRH to increase the rate of him getting up independently. Since Harold currently gets up independently at least one time per week, you would set the goal for two times per week. (You don’t want to set the goal too high, because then Harold might not ever come into contact with reinforcement, and his behavior will likely remain unchanged.) Let Harold know that if he gets up independently two days in a row, you will make his favorite breakfast on the second day. Once Harold has met this goal a few time, increase the requirement for reinforcement. You would move from two days in a row to three days in a row in order to receive his favorite breakfast.

You would continue this until you had reached a pre-arranged goal. It’s important to be realistic in our expectations. You don’t want to change the goal to quickly or make it unreachable. You also don’t want to place higher demands on an individual with disabilities than you do the general population (as discussed in our previous Simplifying the Science article). Many people, for instance, hit the snooze button several times before they actually get up, so it may not be necessary to require an individual with disabilities to wake up the very first time the alarm clock rings 100% of the time.

You may discover that your intervention with Harold is working quite well for a couple weeks, then suddenly stops working. You may need to backtrack a bit, and require fewer consecutive days of independently waking up. Or, you may need to vary the reinforcement. It’s possible that having his favorite breakfast has lost some of its power as a reinforcer.

Finally, after the behavior has reached your goal rate, you should begin to fade the reinforcement entirely. Of course, Harold should still have access to his favorite breakfast, but you should not continue to give it to him on the fifth consecutive day of waking up independently for years to come!

DRH is yet another variation of differential reinforcement that can be very useful for you. It’s also provides an opportunity for a much more positive interaction than introducing punishment to Harold for not waking up independently, and can decrease everyone’s stress levels at the beginning of the day.


Mayer, G. Roy, Sulzer-Azaroff-B. & Wallace, M. (2013). Behavior Analysis for Lasting Change-3rd ed. Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY: Sloan Publishing.


Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-12 in NYC. Working in education for ten years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam has developed strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently pursuing her PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College.

Tip of the Week: Do It Again

Teacher and Student In A Classroom At SchoolTeaching learners with autism or other developmental delays can frequently be a complicated, stress-inducing labor of love. This is why I especially appreciate that one of the most useful strategies in working with learners of all ages is just three simple words: “Do it again.”

The basic idea behind “Do it again,” (Or “Try it again,” or “Do it better”) is that you are calmly stating that the learner must try an action again and do it better than previously done. You are not yelling, you’re voice isn’t even raised. And you are communicating to the learner that you know he/she is capable of doing more.

In some cases, working with learners who may require more invasive prompts such as physical prompts, it may be necessary to have two adults for this to work best. Below are a few example scenarios of how this might work.

Scenario One

  • Teacher asks student to hand a paper to her.
  • Learner drops paper on desk next to her hand.
  • Teacher: (Hands paper back to student.) Try it again. (Holds hand out for paper.)
  • Learner places paper in hand.
  • Teacher: Thank you.

Scenario Two

  • Non-verbal learner wants to get attention from teacher. Grabs teacher’s shirt and pulls.
  • Second adult (possibly another teacher or paraprofessional): Try it again. (Provides hand-over-hand assistance for giving a light tap to get teacher attention.)
  • Teacher: What do you need, _____?

Scenario Three

  • Learner: S@*!
  • Teacher: Try again.
  • Learner: S@*!
  • Teacher: Try it again. (calm, even tone)
  • Learner: I’m mad.

Scenario Four

  • Learner is running across the room to get a toy.
  • Teacher: Go back. Try again. (The learner must return to the point in which he/she began to run.)
  • Learner walks across the room.

Behaviors to use this with:

  • recurring behaviors in which you know the student knows the rule, or you have repeated the rule many times
  • behaviors that are maintained by attention or desiring “shock value” such as cursing, insulting, or using rude language
  • increasing behaviors related to polite speech
  • decreasing behaviors that could cause injury (such as running in the classroom or being rough with peers or adults)

Why it works:

  • you are demonstrating a calm sense of control
  • you are demonstrating that you have and enforce high expectations
  • you are willing to spend the time to have your learner complete requests correctly
  • the learner is still receiving attention, but it is low-quality attention. You should differentiate the quality of the attention you provide based on the quality of the learner’s behavior.
  • the learner still gets what he/she desires, but only after behaving in the desired manner. It is important that the learner still receives the tangible, attention, or escape instead of being punished for finally engaging in the desired behavior, EVEN IF the learner has to “do it again” multiple times. Over time, the learner will engage in the appropriate behavior more quickly because it increases the speed with which they receive the desired item or activity.