, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 265-278

Sensory reinforcement in the mentally handicapped and autistic child: A review

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Abstract

Sensory reinforcement was first studied by learning theorists working with animals in the 1950s. Attempts to examine the phenomenon with children followed in the 1960s, and the studies demonstrated that sensory stimuli could act like any other reinforcers with normal young children. Similar work with the autistic and mentally handicapped child arose in relation to both the study of receptor development and more treatment-oriented research. It now seems that even profoundly handicapped children can learn to operate simple levers when reinforced by sensory stimuli, and some handicapped children have learned quite complex skills through sensory reinforcement. There also appears to be a close relationship between stereotyped behavior and sensory reinforcement. The clinical implications of the studies reviewed are discussed.

This review was written while the author was supported by a Bethlem Royal Hospital research grant. The author is very grateful to Maria Callias, Dr. Janet Carr, Mrs. E. Goodall, and Dr. J. Corbett for their helpful comments on the paper.