How positive are you? Go for the 8 to 1 ratio!

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autism, TAGteach, applied behavior analysis, ABA


Today we feature some wonderful, enlightening comments from Dr. Mary Lynch Barbera, nurse, autism mom, and Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She shares her thoughts on the benefits to the entire family of using positive reinforcement. The magic ratio is 8 positives to 1 negative. Thank you Mary!


From Mary Lynch Barbera: Lessons Learned on My Autism Journey

“I have been doing a Keynote presentation for the past several years called ‘Lessons Learned on my Autism Journey.’ One of the lessons, which I’ve discussed a few times in the past month, is perhaps the most important general lesson. The best part of this lesson is that you will most likely benefit no matter how old you are, no matter if you are male or female and no matter if you know anything about autism. This life lesson, in fact, is really not about autism at all.

Dr. Latham’s Advice

Over a decade ago, I saw the late Dr. Glen Latham speak for only one hour at an autism conference in New York and that short lecture impacted me greatly. Dr. Latham had a PhD in special education and was the grandfather of a boy with autism.

He wrote several books including a book that I still highly recommend for parents of toddlers through teens called Positive Parenting and another one for teachers called Behind the SchoolHouse Door: Eight Skills Every Teacher Should Have.

The Positive Reinforcement Ratio: 8 positives to 1 negative

In his books and in the life-changing lecture I attended, Dr. Latham highlighted that all of us—children and adults– need to receive 8 positives for every negative. Unfortunately, Dr. Latham found that in most cases where a child or adult was having serious behavior issues, the positive to negative ratio was very bad with some children in special education receiving dozens of negative interactions for each positive one.

So my one piece of advice is for all of us to give each other, our teachers, our classmates, our children (especially our children with autism), our parents, our bosses, the waitresses who serve us, and everyone else who we interact with much more positive feedback.

A smile, a thumbs-up, a thank-you, and a good job can all go into your positive pile. But, a complaint, a correction, a nag, and an eye roll all go in the negative pile. Even if you are nagging with a smile on your face, it is still considered to be negative.

Since you need to be dishing out 8 positives for every 1 negative, if you find yourself doing a lot of complaining, being negative, nagging or gossiping, I encourage you to stop, wipe that slate clean and start the ratio of 8 positives to every negative over again! If you really want to have fun, you can try to start counting your positive to negative ratio!

Being more positive should help you in every endeavor and may very well improve your life.”

Remember that important ratio:  8 positives for every 1 negative!  (NOTE: This doesn’t mean you have to throw in a negative if you’ve given 8 positives, just give as many positives as possible.)

Mary Lynch Barbera

Mary Lynch Barbera, PhD, RN, BCBA-D, is the founder of Barbera Behavior Consulting.  “I am a mother of a teen-age son with autism, a Registered Nurse, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, and, in 2011, I earned a PhD in Leadership. In 2007, I authored The Verbal Behavior Approach to help parents and professionals learn strategies to teach children with autism. My book has received several prominent endorsements from both parents and professionals, has sold over 25,000 copies, and is now available in several languages.”  See




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Martha Gabler

Autism parent. Director, Kids' Learning Workshop LLC. Author of Chaos to Calm: Discovering Solutions to the Everyday Problems of Living with Autism.

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