Pairing Protocol

What and Why:

Pairing is the process of building rapport with a student, in which they begin to see a connection between the adult and the reinforcer.  Pairing is an active process, adult must act as the “giver” and student acts as the “taker.”  A good level of pairing needs to be achieved before work can be presented.


  • Reinforcement inventory (recent – monthly)
  • Large variety and supply of reinforcing items
  • Manipulate the environment so student only has access to the reinforcer when presented by adult

How and When to Implement:

  • This is useful when you want to get a student to work with you.
  • Identify reinforcing items.
  • Deliver reinforcer-student does not need to work/earn the reinforcer (it’s all about building relationship).
  • The child must approach the adult in order to have access to the reinforcer.  Let the child take the reinforcer from presenter (helps create a relationship).
  • Provide reinforcer as much as possible and deliver reinforcer frequently (give them what they want when they want it).
  • Interact and speak with student.  Make it fun!
  • If student is bored with reinforcer, provide a different reinforcer.

Things to Consider/Problem Solving:

  • When your goal is pairing, avoid making the student work for the reinforcer.
  • When your goal is pairing, the student should have constant access to the reinforcer.
  • Pair when changes in staff and environments occur.
  • When using edibles, always have family permission and consider food allergies. Also, break edibles into small pieces to avoid satiation.
  • There should be a plan for fading the edible by pairing it with another reinforcer.
  • If the student has access to the reinforcer during other times of the day, they may not be as motivated to pair with the adult.

Useful Resources to Learn More:


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Information compiled by Lincoln Public Schools Autism Team (September 2015)