Shaping

Description: A process in which an instructor teaches a new behavior by systematically and differentially reinforcing “successive approximations” of a target behavior while no longer reinforcing previous approximations of the behavior. For example, if an instructor is trying to teach a child with minimal verbal language to say “mommy,” the instructor may initially provide reinforcement if the child says “mmm.” As the child learns to expand upon this, such as saying “ma,” then the initial “mmm” is no longer reinforced but the sound of “ma” is reinforced, etc.

Research Summary: Shaping procedures are well-established learning principles and have been widely researched and shown to be effective in increasing a variety of skills to individuals with autism.

Recommendations: Shaping procedures are effective ways in which to teach individuals with autism a variety of skills.

Selected References:

Systematic reviews of scientific studies:

Heflin, L. J. & Alberto, P. A. (2001). Establishing a behavioral context for learning for students with autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 16, 93-101.

Delprato, D.J. (2001). Comparisons of discrete-trial and normalized behavioral intervention for young children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31, 315-325.