Understanding Non-Contingent Reinforcement for Autism


Non-contingent reinforcement is a behavior modification method used in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to reduce challenging behaviors in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) or other developmental disorders or differences. Non-contingent reinforcement provides continuous access to independent reinforcement of a specific behavior. Non-contingent reinforcement, also known as NCR, is behavior-independent and is supported by research as an effective method of intervention for challenging behaviors.

What is non-contingent reinforcement?

Non-Contingent Reinforcement (RCN) can be used in education by a teacher or at home by a parent to help reduce challenging behaviors by providing ongoing access to reinforcement. For example, if a student at school exhibits difficult behavior to get the teacher’s attention during story time, the teacher may place the student next to them during story time. The student who sits next to the teacher eliminates the need and function of having to engage in problematic behaviors to gain attention, as he or she is already receiving the reinforcement of the teacher’s attention through non-contingent reinforcement. The student is no longer motivated to have a negative interaction because he received what he wanted without having to gain it through positive behavior.

Non-contingent reinforcement can be effective in managing unwanted autism behaviors because the child loses motivation to engage in problematic behavior. With applied behavior analysis and non-contingent reinforcement, a specific behavior can be modified, reduced or eliminated. Functional analyzes can be done to determine the function of the behavior and why the child may engage in this way or what they want to happen or have access to. Taking behavioral data is one of the strategies that a behavior analysis will use and consider when destructive behavior sustained by attention occurs. Taking data and being able to analyze it can help implement a schedule and strategy that is personally tailored to your child’s specific needs.

How do you use non-contingent reinforcement?

Non-contingent reinforcement is used on a schedule to better analyze and manage the effects of non-contingent behavioral patterns. This method is most effective when the function of negative behavior is to attract attention. This can happen when children are competing for the attention of their teacher or instructor. It can also happen at home with many siblings when a child has to engage in difficult or destructive behaviors to get individualized attention from a guardian or parent. Using a schedule to provide individualized attention can help problematic behaviors go away.

For example, if the child wants the teacher’s attention, the teacher can assign a specific time each day that the student can have extra attention from them. This may be the last five minutes of lunch or recess during which the student can inform the teacher of their concerns. Or it may take five minutes after classroom instructions have been given for the teacher to provide one-on-one assistance to the child to ensure that the instructions and expectations are understood.

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At home, it may take 10 minutes after returning from school for the child to have the opportunity to share everything that happened at school that day. If the parent sits next to the child and is an active listener, the need for problematic behavior will not be an option because they are already receiving the attention they need. Another way to use non-contingent reinforcement to avoid difficult bedtime behaviors is the last 10 minutes before bedtime that a child spends one-on-one with their parents to read and build healthy family bonds. A child may get out of bed or have trouble running away for the purpose and function of attracting attention. Creating this meaningful extra time can suppress the function and the desire to engage in atypical behaviors.

What is a non-contingent reinforcement program?

A non-contingent reinforcement program is a program that a teacher or parent will use to provide ongoing reinforcement to a child for the purpose of managing unwanted autism behaviors. Children who may engage in challenging behaviors to gain attention are perfect candidates for using noncontingent reinforcement programs. Using the examples above, this could be a seat assignment next to the teacher every story hour, or taking 10 minutes after you get home from school for a child to tell you his day, or to share a one-on-one moment just before going to bed. for story time. Whatever type of schedule works best for you, make sure it’s consistent and that you are able to follow it for maximum impact.

What is the difference between contingent and non-contingent reinforcement?

Contingent and non-contingent reinforcements are very different. Contingent reinforcement depends on behavior. An example at home would be asking a child to finish eating his vegetables for dessert. Reinforcement depends on behavior. If the vegetables are not eaten, the child does not get dessert. If the child eats his vegetables, he receives his dessert or reinforcement. An example at school would be to hand in their work before going to recess. Going to recess depends on finishing and handing in their work. If the work is not returned, the child does not go to recess.

Non-contingent reinforcement is behavior-independent and occurs on a set schedule. For example, having a child sitting next to you for story time, no matter how good or bad the child’s behavior was earlier in the day, is non-contingent reinforcement. The child does not have to win the reward. This method eliminates the child’s need to engage in negative behaviors and can reduce or even eliminate any problematic behavior that a child has previously used to gain attention.


Non-contingent reinforcement can be used with a set schedule that is completely independent of behaviors to help manage unwanted autism behaviors. This strategy eliminates the function and the need to look for problematic behaviors to gain attention. When implemented correctly, you should notice other positive traits, such as an ability to focus better, stay task-focused, complete tasks, and strengthen family bonds. Contact an ABA therapist or behavioral interventionist to learn more about how non-contingent reinforcement could help you and your family reduce unwanted or atypical behavior.

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