Building Good Behavior and Building Self-Esteem in Children with Dr. Henry Schlinger

#139: Building Good Behavior and Self-Esteem in Children with Dr. Henry Schlinger

ABA and positive reinforcement go hand-in-hand when building good behavior in children. Dr. Henry (Hank) Schlinger Jr. is on the podcast today to discuss his book, How to Build Good Behavior and Self-Esteem in Children, and the science behind it. Dr. Schlinger’s book breaks down common problems parents face into five key points and sheds light on the five myths that prevent parents from fixing them. Five Problems Any Parent Faces:
  1. Parents fly on automatic pilot and are not aware of how their behavior affects their children’s behavior and how their children’s behavior affects theirs.
  2. Parents think that just telling their kids how to behave will work. 
  3. Parents teach their children to be the boss.
  4. Parents ignore good behavior and teach bad behavior. 
  5. Parents think that the kid they get is just the luck of the draw. Sometimes you get a good kid and sometimes not such a good kid. 
Five Myths Regarding Positive Reinforcement:
  1. Reinforcement doesn’t work with humans
  2. Using positive reinforcement is bribery. 
  3. Using positive reinforcement is unnatural.
  4. Using positive reinforcement is manipulative.
  5. Using positive reinforcement undermines intrinsic motivation.
In episode 132, ABA Therapy: Four Myths & Truths, I drive home the fact that ABA is a science, it is at work all the time. Positive reinforcement is the same way. It is a science that works in animals, humans, kids with disabilities, kids without disabilities, and adults. It works for everyone. We go over solutions to Dr. Schlinger’s five problems and how to effectively use positive reinforcement to increase good behavior and decrease problem behavior. The advice and suggestions for parenting that Dr. Schlinger and I discuss, using his book as a guide, will help parents whether their child has autism or not. The information discussed in his book and in my book, Turn Autism Around, are built on the foundation of engagement and positive environments. Dr. Schlinger says that when you’re helping your child by reinforcing good behavior, your child is happier, then you’re happier, and that is the key to being less stressed as a family.


Henry D. (Hank) Schlinger Jr. received his Ph.D. in psychology (applied behavior analysis) from Western Michigan University (WMU) under the supervision of Jack Michael. He then completed a two-year National Institutes of Health-funded post-doctoral fellowship in behavioral pharmacology, also at WMU with Alan Poling. Dr. Schlinger was a full-tenured professor of psychology at Western New England University in Springfield, MA, before moving to Los Angeles in 1998. He is now a professor of psychology, former director of the M. S. Program in Applied Behavior Analysis, a current coordinator of the ABA Specialization Option and BCaBA course sequence in the Department of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles. Dr. Schlinger has published more than 80 scholarly articles, chapters, and commentaries in 35 different journals and books. He also authored or coauthored four books, Psychology: A Behavioral Overview (1990); A Behavior-Analytic View of Child Development (1995) (which was translated into Japanese); introduction to Scientific Psychology (1998), and How to Build Good Behavior and Self-Esteem in Children (2021). He is a past editor of The Analysis of Verbal Behavior And The Behavior Analyst and sits on the editorial boards of several other journals. He also serves on the Board of Trustees of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies and on the Advisory Board of The B. F. Skinner Foundation and The Venus Project. He received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Department of Psychology at Western Michigan University in 2012, and the Jack Michael Award for Outstanding Contributions in Verbal Behavior from the Verbal Behavior Special Interest Group of the Association for Behavior Analysis International in 2015.


  • Five problems ANY parents face regardless of age or ability.
  • Myths regarding positive reinforcement.
  • Critical tips for parents and professionals.
Want to get started on the right path and start making a difference for your child or client with autism?

Transcript for Podcast Episode: 139

Building Good Behavior and Self-Esteem in Children with Dr. Henry Schlinger
Hosted by: Dr. Mary Barbera

Mary: You’re listening to the Turn Autism Around podcast episode number one hundred and thirty nine. Today, we have a very special guest, Dr. Hank Schlinger Jr., who is a BCBAD. He received his Ph.D. in psychology at Western Michigan University under the supervision of the late Dr. Jack Michael. He is currently an ABA specialization option and BCABA core sequence coordinator in the Department of Psychology at California State University in Los Angeles. We are talking all about Hank’s brand new book, How to Build Good Behavior and Self-esteem in Children. I only read the first few chapters and I already love it. We talk all about five problems that parents face with parenting any child of any age, with or without a disability. We talk about myths regarding positive reinforcement. We talk about bribery, all kinds of things that are critical that both parents and professionals know. So let’s get to this important interview with Dr. Hank Schringer.

Welcome to the Town Autism Around podcast. For both parents and professionals in the autism world who want to turn things around, be less stressed and lead happier lives. And now your host, autism mom, behavior analyst, and bestselling author, Dr. Mary Barbera.

Mary: OK, thank you so much for joining us today. I am so looking forward to this. So why don’t we start with, describe your fall into the autism world?

Dr. Schlinger’s Fall into the Autism World

Dr. Schlinger: Well, my fall into the autism world is an interesting story. We have to go back more years than I would like to remember. And I was an undergraduate student at North Texas State University outside of Dallas in Denton, Texas. I was in my fifth year of being an undergraduate student, which tells you, you know, that I wasn’t doing too well, I was in…my direction, was not too great. I was living in a duplex. And one day a girl moved into the next to the other side of the duplex. She had moved up from Dallas, Texas, and she had moved up to take classes with someone by the name of Don Whaley. And at that time, my hair was down to my shoulders and I was playing guitar, which I still do. But and I was pretty, pretty much a recluse. And so, you know, I met her, obviously, and she said and it was summertime. And she said to me, she said, well, I’m going to take this summer class with this professor Don Whaley, and why don’t you take it to be a really cool class. And she was an attractive woman. So I said, OK, I’ll do it. I’ll do what you asked me to do. It turns out the class was seven thirty in the morning, five days a week in the summer. And I was a musician. So that obviously did not jive well with my schedule. The first day of class in walks this person who was pretty large, he was a big man and a long beard, but he was even bigger in his personality. And he said to us, he said, well, we have a very short summer session and I’ll give you an option. You can either write a 40 page term paper or you can work with an autistic child in my center a couple of days a week or something like that. And I had no idea what autism was back then. In fact, back then and again, I’m not specifying what year it was. Almost nobody had any idea what autism was, but I thought anything would be better than writing a 40 page paper. And so a day or two later, I showed up at the center. It was a center based program in concert with the university. I showed up and within a day or two I was sitting in front of a real live child. And now back then, there was no ASD. So all the kids who were diagnosed with autism were all classic autism. They were all the most severe cases of autism, nonverbal, self injurious, highly stereotyped behaviors, lots of echolalia, no self-help skills, just really the most severe. And even then, those parents had difficulty getting their kids diagnosed with autism. And within a few days, I was still being trained. But within a few days I was working with kids with autism, you know, sitting across from these kids who in my mind were the most bizarre kids I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen people behave that way. I’d never seen nonverbal kids. I’d never seen kids with echolalia. But that was a very powerful moment for me. It was powerful in the sense that not only as an undergraduate was I now given the opportunity to work one on one with the child who needed help. But I got to see pretty immediate effects of my Behavior with these kids, and I can’t think of anything more powerful than that to be able to see that not down the road years or months, but immediately changes in their behavior as a result of what I call a very weakly trained undergraduate student was able to accomplish with them.

Mary: Yeah. So that is why I always ask the same question when I start interviews. And if it’s a parent they fell into the autism world with their child. And then sometimes it’s in Bridget Taylor’s case, it was a sibling had, I believe, Down syndrome, not autism. And sometimes it’s a sibling, but most of the professionals that come, it is a similar situation where they respond to an ad or they start working with a kid with autism. And I like what you said. It was kind of just immediate. You know, they told you what to do and you did it and then the behaviors changed. And that it’s really powerful when you see that happen. So did you go on to then get a master’s and the doctorate in ABA.

Dr. Schlinger: Well, I, I worked well at that point in time. I had not really decided on a major. So at that point in time I made my decision to finish a psychology major and before I finished, so I had, I’d worked there for I can’t remember more at least a year. And before I finished a friend of mine and he already had a masters degree. He was at North Texas State University. It’s now called University of North Texas. I was from Dallas and that’s about 30 miles south of Denton. I decided to transfer from North Texas State University to Southern Methodist University in Dallas. And I met with a faculty member there. And I proposed to him that we open up or start a center based program and SMU. And like the one I was treated at North Texas and he thought it was a great idea. I only had a bachelors degree at the time. I mean, I hadn’t I didn’t even finish my bachelor’s, so I went to SMU to finish it. He agreed to be the clinical director. And so we opened up sort of a satellite program at Southern Methodist University, which was similar to the program in North Texas State. The programs were center based and they were very unique because what they did was each semester they recruited undergraduate students, usually psychology students from the university. And so they were trained onsite in the center at the university by people like me. At that point, I had progressed to be someone who could supervise. And so we trained students every semester so students would come in. We had a constant flow of workers, of people who could work with the kids and we would come in every semester. They would get course credit. We would train them. Some of them stayed for more than a semester. And so I ended up doing that for three or four years.

Mary: And that still is happening, right? Because you know, at many places they do have western Michigan, which you were trained there, right? Under Dr. Jack Michael, who has passed away about a year or two ago. And so they do have Western Michigan has an affiliated center where undergrads go and get trained. And I mean, it’s not like every university, but a lot of universities. So if you’re listening and you’re a parent and somewhere in the United States, you should check where there’s potentially universities that who have an ABA or psychology sequence and see if there is an autism clinic, it doesn’t necessarily even have I mean, it would be best if it was ABA, but it doesn’t have to be. Some of them are more like directed by the speech department and multidisciplinary students. But anyway, so I want to get to your new book, and you wrote actually four books. And when I was looking at your new book, which is called How to Build Good Behavior and Self-esteem in Children. And this just came out in twenty, twenty one. And then you also have three other books, including this one, which I had on my bookshelf, which is published way back when in the nineteen nineties I got it in 2005. It’s called the Behavior Analytic View of Child Development. But you know from your background you were trained very scientifically. And one of the I’m only partially through the book, through your new book How to Build Good Behavior, and I’m very impressed. I’m really loving it. One of the things I’m really impressed about is how you were able to take your scientific background and really try to put it in a very layman’s term for parents and for professionals trying to help parents. So. Why did you decide to make that shift and to really try your hand at real parent information?

Dr. Schlinger: Well, for years I’ve taught courses on developmental psychology, and as I taught those courses as a behavior analyst, I found myself having to translate traditional developmental terms and concepts into behavioral ones. And that’s kind of what led me to write the book that held up the Behavior Analytic View of Child Development. But in some of those courses, I had students do behavior change projects, and many of the students were either parents or they had younger siblings. Some of them were autistic. Many, most of them were typically developing. And so they would do behavior change projects and they all did very interesting projects and they would come in and, you know, they weren’t trained at all. I mean, I talk to them how to do it in class. And I would you know, we would talk in class about what they should do and stuff. And many of them came back with really almost miraculous results of just changing fairly simple behaviors in their kids or if they were teachers, in their students. And so I accumulated those over a number of years. I also wrote a column for a local newspaper called Behavioral Health, and I wrote mostly about kids, about behavior problems in kids. And I’ve done some parent consulting. So all of those kinds of things kind of accumulated. And I just felt it was the right time to write a book. And then I had my own kid about 11 years ago. And so that might have been the impetus or doing that.

Five Problems Any Parent Faces

Mary: Yeah, well, like I said, I think it’s great and that it brings all the scientific background you need, but really presents and very easy to understand language. So Chapter one, which is literally page two, you identified five problems right out of the gate, which I loved. Five problems that everybody faces. No matter if your child, what age they are, what if they have any diagnoses? It’s just right out of the gate. So No. One, parents fly on automatic pilot and not are not aware of how their behavior affects their children’s behavior and how their children’s behavior affects theirs. So can you just elaborate on that a little bit?

Dr. Schlinger: Yes. Well, before I do that, I just want to point out that the principles, the scientific principles of behavior analysis, ABA, they are applicable to any behaving organism. They’re not just applicable to a certain age group or a certain gender or whatever. They’re applicable across the spectrum. And my spectrum, I’m not talking about the autism. I’m just that’s the spectrum of living beings there, especially, I think, useful in human behavior. So it really doesn’t from my perspective and from the perspective of the science, it doesn’t matter whether your child is three years old or 10 years old or diagnosed with autism or diagnosed with ADHD or not diagnosed with anything or behaving really badly or behaving kind of badly or behaving well, these principles can be used to improve their behavior and their self-esteem. So.

Mary: Right, right. And that and that is important. And I know our listeners, our regular listeners know all that, because I’ve been touting that forever. And I also will put that in the show notes. I have a solo podcast show that I did on ABAand the five myths of ABA and how ABA is a science and it’s operating all the time. Whether or not you believe in it, whether or not you like it, it’s kind of like gravity. You reinforce a behavior, it’s going to go up. So that is good to point out. So that’s one of the things in the first couple of pages of your book that is like this doesn’t matter. This isn’t well, that’s not for me or that won’t work for my child. These are general principles. So parents basically are flying on autopilot. They’re not being taught what to do.

Dr. Schlinger: Well, yeah, we’re all flying on automatic pilot when we interact with people. And we do that until or unless there’s some problem. And then we ask ourselves, OK, there’s a problem here. And at that point, that’s when parents of kids have to be aware of how their behavior affects their kid’s behavior. Because there’s an expression that I mentioned in the book as well. The expression is the kid is always right. And what that expression means. Well, what it doesn’t mean is that the kid always does what you want or the kid always does the right behavior. But what it means is that whatever the kid does, the kid does because there’s a cause of the behavior. And from the perspective of behavioral analysis, the causes don’t come from within the kid. They come from in the kid’s environment. And that can include parents or siblings or other relatives or teachers or friends, and so if you’re a parent of a child, I think one of the most important first steps that you can make is to try and become aware of not only what does your kid do and when do they do it, but how do you react to it? What do you then do? Because we do all fly an automatic pilot. I’ve been doing this for many years when my kid was born 11 years ago and I’m an older father. When my kid was born 11 years ago, I had already been really well trained by working with kids with autism for four or five years and then training graduate students to do that. And so I was aware of much of his behavior, but not all of it. I can’t be aware of all of it. It’s too much work. But the more you can be aware of what your kids are doing at the moment, they’re doing it and how you react to it. That’s really the first step to being able to change their behavior, to being more productive, better behavior for the kids and for you. So that’s why the automatic pilot section there.

Mary: Yeah. OK, so the second problem you identify is parents think that just telling their kids how to behave will work.

Dr. Schlinger: Well, yeah, this is a common problem that you see everywhere. A kid misbehaves and a parent says, you know, don’t do that, or the parent sits the kid down and says, now, you know, it’s not really nice for you to behave that way because how would you feel if other people behave that way? And sometimes parents do this with like two or three year old kids who have no clue what the parents are saying? Right. The parents are rationalizing and reasoning with them and they’re like their language abilities are not at a level. And we all know how that works. It doesn’t even work with adults. If you tell adults, you know, go exercise or stop eating those fatty foods or please say thank you or call me when you get home. Telling people to do things rarely gets them to do it. So that’s, again, something that parents do when they fly on automatic pilot. That’s what their parents did with them. That’s what they see. Maybe people tell them, maybe they read that somewhere. And so they tell their kids. And then a few times in the book, I ask the Dr. Phil question, and I never really watched Dr. Phil. But I know the question that he akss. And I think it’s a really good question. And the question is, how’s that working for you? And so if you find yourself telling your kids what to do and you find them not doing it much of the time or any of the time, the question, how’s that working for you? That means that’s probably not working. There’s probably something else that you should probably think about doing.

Mary: Right. And some kids, like I’m thinking of some previous clients and kids in my book Turn Autism Around. And I’m thinking of Max. And he was the second born child and he had a sister two or three years older than her, than him. And everything was fine with the little girl. She was calm and everything was fine. But Max had some neurologic differences. And so he cried a lot as an infant. And he, you know, sand bothered him and he would tantrum. And so what works for the sister, didn’t work for Max. And so and they were kind of on autopilot doing the same things that they did with the little girl for the little boy. And it wasn’t working. It was just getting worse. And also, the second problem with just telling kids is I did a video blog on why teaching kids with autism with serious language impairments, I’m sorry, can actually make things a lot worse. Talking about problem behavior after the fact and doing it. It’s like if that was for attention, that’s going to shape it up, if they can understand what you’re saying and that can get really shaped up. But I think a lot of these things are covered in all five problems together, so let’s just get through them. So problem number three is parents teach their children to be the boss. What do you mean by that?

Dr. Schlinger: Well, one of the things I’ve noticed over the last many years is that parents, many parents, not all parents, many parents indulge their kids or they’re afraid of their kids or they don’t want to upset their kids. They want them to be their friend or something like that. And so by doing that, they let the kids dictate what happens. I give an example in my book, which is a really trivial example. But I think it makes the point. My wife and I took our son to I think it was kindergarten one day and a mother had brought her daughter, who was in my son’s class. And then she had a little younger daughter who was like two or three, I can’t remember, and she had put her shoes on backwards. So she had her left shoe on the right foot, the right, the left foot, not a big deal. And another mother said, oh, your daughter’s shoes are on. Well, I told her that they were on the wrong feet, that she insisted that she wanted to wear them. And so there you go. So she had the shoes and the wrong feet. Now, that example is not a serious example unless she wears her shoes in the wrong feet all the time, I don’t know. But it points out a problem, which is, you know, when a parent says she insisted, I’m like, wait a minute, who’s the boss? She’s three years old. You’re the adult. And, of course, witnessed many other examples of this. So parents allow their kids by giving in and not being firm, you know, and you don’t have to be mean. Just be firm. And then and of course, an example like that will evolve and accumulate and snowball to more serious examples where kids insist on things.

Mary: It seems he won’t let me hold his hand as I know that’s a safety issue. He won’t eat. He won’t walk up the steps for bed and fall asleep in his own bed. He insists on sleeping on the sofa, falling asleep on the sofa, and watching TV.

Dr. Schlinger: Oh yes. Yeah, there are a million examples.

Mary: And we’ll talk about this. But, you know, yes, the same thing is true for a two year old or five year old or 10 year old or 12 year old. However, if you have a 10 year old or a 12 year old who’s as big as you are. Then, you know, it’s not a matter of just being firm, because now we’ve got more issues, but let’s get through our five problems, and we can talk about that. Number four, parents ignore good behavior and teach bad behavior.

Dr. Schlinger: This is probably the biggest problem. If I could single out one. And that is and this isn’t just true of parents. It’s true of all of us. As long as people are behaving the way we want, we don’t really feel the need to to let them know. So it’s like your daughter is in the other room. She’s playing quietly. Oh, I’m so thankful she’s playing quietly. You know, I hope it lasts for a long time or whatever. Instead of going in and saying, you know, sweetheart, you’re playing so quietly by yourself. That’s such a big girl being able to play by yourself…and whatever. But then let something break or drop or let her hit her younger sibling and somebody cries, the parents on it like Johnny on the spot. And so instead of going to the kid, whenever they’re behaving the way you want them to behave, what we do is we just are glad that they’re behaving well and we don’t say anything. And you see this in public to parents who would take their kids out in public, the kids walking quietly and nicely by the parent at the grocery store and the parent, you know them, the parents busy, they have a list, they’ve got to find food or whatever, but they’re not they’re not interacting with their kid, while the kids being good. But, boy, let the kid knock something off a shelf or start whining or crying, then the parent turns to them. And of course, that attention often ends up being positive reinforcement. And the kids now have a start a behavioral problem so that to me is the biggest issue. So and I’ll just let me say one more thing. When I talk to parents and I really only have like a few minutes to talk to a parent who has a problem. The one thing that I tell them is try to identify and be aware of when your kids are doing what you want them to do and make sure you pay attention to it or praise them or interact with them. And when they’re doing the things that you don’t want them to do, if you can try not to interact with them and not pay attention. If so, I can if I can give any advice. In just a nutshell to parents, that’s the advice.

Mary: Yeah. And I in both of my books and all of my stuff, I really go with Glen Latham’s eight positives to every negative, try to be mindful of that. And when you do get a negative, you have to give a negative like a reprimand or a firm. Now we’re going to do this, then you’ve got to clear the slate and you got to go back to your 8 positives and it’s like, that’s not just for kids or kids with autism right across the board. Our interactions, we want to be positive. We want to be in positive, relaxed, a stress free environment as possible and not oiling the squeaky wheel.

Dr. Schlinger: Right. And that leads to, as I say, in the title of the book, that leads to self-esteem, because when kids are behaving well, they feel better about themselves. And that’s pretty much what we mean by self-esteem and they’re happier with themselves. And then the parents are happier with the kids. And then, you know, everyone lives happily ever after.

Mary: Yeah, OK, I like that. And number five is parents think that the kid they get is just the luck of the draw. Sometimes you get a good kid and sometimes not such a good kid.

Dr. Schlinger: Yeah. We don’t really, you mentioned the two siblings a few minutes ago, and we don’t really know specifically what kinds of neurology our kids have. There are neurological diagnostic tests for anything for ADHD, ODD, Autism, any of those things. We infer neurological deficits or problems based on severity of behavior. Let me give you just an example. Before our kid was born, we had a cat and our cat was a really well behaved cat. Very, he was trained well. He was nice. He was affectionate. People would come over and they say, you have, you’re so lucky. You got a cat who’s well behaved. And we would just sort of write that off. Then we had a kid and our kid ended up being really well-behaved and talented and all those things. And people would come over and say, you guys are so lucky. And so then I wanted to say, how many well-behaved creatures do we have to have in our house before people are willing to acknowledge it’s not the luck of the genetic draw, it’s the environment. And so if I could just talk about the example that you gave of the little boy who was who cried and tantrums, there may be some neurological reason why those things started, but as soon as those behaviors occur, then they affect the environment and how the parents react to those behaviors. And this is why it’s important, as you said, to really get to parents when they have very young children, because right out of the gate, you can start reinforcing, positively reinforcing behaviors you want and not reinforcing behaviors you don’t want. Even if those behaviors are the result of some genetic or neurological issue, they become much more exaggerated and worse by how people react to them. And I think that’s a really important lesson for parents of any kid to start really young when they’re very young.

Mary: Yeah. And Max, for instance, the family moved to my area and I became his early intervention provider when he was two, two and a half maybe. He had just gone to a developmental pediatrician, a hospital based clinic, to evaluate him a month before they moved to my area. And he for an hour and a half, just screamed during the evaluation. Yeah, my mom was in the room. They had they were trying reinforcement. He just screamed bloody murder. And so he was, actually they said they couldn’t diagnose or rule anything in or out because he just screamed. And so then I started working with him and I was like, I can’t tell if he has autism. He’s so temperamental. And then within each, you know, he had neurologic differences. You also have the kid’s personality. You know, I have two sons, Spencer and Lucas and Lucas has moderate severe autism. Spencer, who’s on episode number eighty five on my podcast, we can link that in the show, notes he’s in medical school, very bright and talented. And, you know, but Spencer all along had he was much more sensitive, more high maintenance, his personality. I mean, he was well behaved. But so some you know, within each child, you don’t get a good kid or a bad kid, but you get kids with neurological differences, with personalities that tend to be more stubborn, more sensitive to things, more, you know, and so each child is different. But not to say that, and just because Lucas has moderate severe autism doesn’t mean this is one of my pet peeves. And my soapbox doesn’t mean that I should expect a life long of aggression and self injury and tantrums and flopping on the ground.

Dr. Schlinger: Because those behaviors aren’t caused by Autism. And when I first started working with kids with autism, we had to spend so much time breaking through all of the learned bad behaviors that parents inadvertently, you know, they didn’t know what they were doing, you know, and also because it was at a time when autism wasn’t even widely known and they did the best they could, but they inadvertently reinforced a lot of bad behaviors. So we had to break through the tantrums and the flopping on the ground, all that stuff, before we can actually begin to deal with the deficits caused by autism. Right. And another reason why your emphasis on dealing with toddlers and very young kids, you know, as soon as possible is really crucial because the longer you wait, the more of these kinds of troublesome behaviors will appear. And then those are the ones you have to work with, like the kids screaming for an hour and a half before you can even get to the point where you can determine. You know, if there’s anything wrong with the kid.

Mary: Max actually had a very good outcome. I worked, I took videos, I did the STAT, the screening tool for autism in toddlers, took the video, sent them into the developmental pediatrician. Four months later, we went to visit. I went along with Mom and Max to visit for an evaluation. She had just watched the videos that I had sent to her four months previously. And she came in and he was really doing much, much better. He was pointing. He was showing. He did have a tantrum or two, but it wasn’t non stop tantrums. And she actually said, I came in fully expecting to give Max a diagnosis of autism and I don’t see it now.

Dr. Schlinger: Yeah, it’s an amazing story. Yeah.

Mary: And it can happen. And so some people say, what do you mean by turn autism around? And, you know, an action guide for parents of children with early signs of autism like you can’t prevent or turn autism completely around. It’s like maybe it wasn’t autism to begin with. Number one, now we’re talking the age of covid isolation for our toddlers that we’re talking about. So maybe it’s looking like autism and it’s not or maybe we can prevent and turn it around. And you know what? It’s just good parenting and engagement. So it doesn’t hurt to try.

Dr. Schlinger: That’s exactly right. That’s the main point.

Mary: Yes, right. And even Dr. Ami KLIN, who I did a solo show about his important work in Episode ninety three, he said he doesn’t believe he’s an autism researcher for decades and he doesn’t believe you can prevent autism or turn autism completely around. But he does believe that you can prevent and turn speech disorders, behavioral disorders and intellectual disability which often coincide with autism. That’s not treated. Well, you can reverse all that. So it doesn’t matter. We’re just trying to help the child reach their fullest potential and teach the parents how to avoid the five problems that we just identified.

Dr. Schlinger: Yeah. And parents want to feel like they’re in control. They don’t want to feel like things are out of control. And I think the bottom line about all this is that it’s the principles of behavior analysis that can turn those things around. They can prevent a lot of troublesome behavior and possibly turn autism around depending upon the kid and, you know, and all that stuff. So regardless of what it is, it’s these principles that we’re talking about. And I have to say, I’ve been doing this for a long time. My mother, who’s quite elderly right now, she keeps telling me. She says you know, I cannot believe that you are still as passionate about this as you had been for the last thirty years. She says that really is a testimony to something about what you’re doing. And, you know, my answer to her is it’s a testimony to the field and to the science, because it generates optimism. If you can really use, put the principles to work. It’s saved a lot of people, you know, a lot of families, a lot of heartache. And so. Yeah. So that’s why I’m still doing this.

Mary: Yup and there’s a lot of us that are, that are still very passionate because we know it works and we’ve seen not good things not work, you know, and and it just breaks your heart when you see a little two year old not getting the right treatment, the parents not getting the right advice. And some of the parents that are getting early intervention services, for instance, they might have one hour of speech therapist, one hour OT, one hour with teacher. They’re all coming in. They’re all very well-meaning, very seasoned professionals in their field. And we’ve had multiple speech therapists, OTs, PTs on the show. And we’re not dissing anybody, but they are not experts in ABA and the science that you outline in this really great book. OK, you also talk a little bit in the book about discipline and how discipline, which I did a video blog on, is means to teach. And so when people think of discipline, they think a punishment. And a lot of non ABA folks also think of ABA and they think of punishment. Why is that?

Dr. Schlinger: Well, I’m not sure I know the answer to that completely, but it may be a lot of misinformation or disinformation. It also may be that punishment, the way that we define it. And so I guess we need to do that. Punishment is not something you do for revenge or to get even. Somebody or to hurt somebody, you know, in behavior analysis terms, the principle of punishment is simply a consequence of behavior that reduces the frequency of that behavior. It’s not so we don’t punish kids. We punish behavior. Right. And that’s a huge philosophical difference, thinking about I’m going to punish my kid. Well, there’s like anger involved in that and there’s revenge. But I want to punish that behavior, which means I want to decrease that behavior. I like the other behaviors, but I just want to get rid of that behavior. So the fact that we talk about punishment and I do in the book, I don’t think it’s avoidable because even the natural environment punishes behavior. If you’re careless while you’re cooking and you accidentally pick up a hot pan, you won’t do that again. The pan punishes the response of being careless. If you’re careless while you’re cutting some vegetables and you cut your finger, that will punish that behavior. You won’t do that again. If you are careless where you’re walking and you walk into a chair, a door, you probably won’t do that again. So punishment is a part of the natural environment. But I think what we in behavior analysis do is we emphasize positive reinforcement most of the time. There may be some times when punishment of a behavior is necessary or called for. But even then, the kind of punishment strategies that we encourage are not physical punishment. We don’t encourage hitting or screaming. You know, the kinds of strategies we encourage are more things like response cost or time out or things like that, that are more, you know, natural kinds of punishment strategies. So I think the fact that we talk about it at all might lead some people to think that. But I don’t see it is avoidable because there are times, you know, maybe rare times when you actually need to reduce behavior and through some punishment strategy. So.

Mary: Right. And we do, I think talking about positive reinforcement a little bit more is good. And yeah, punishment is a part of the science of ABA, like the natural punishment. And I personally believe that a timeout is one of the most overused, incorrect procedures that in the whole world.

Dr. Schlinger: Well, it’s because it’s used incorrectly.

Mary: It’s used incorrectly. It’s overused. It’s not. It’s used by well-meaning parents and professionals. And that’s another reason to start super young is you’re just going to really try to shape things, try to be super positive and use extinction, which is things like planned, ignoring where you’re not actively punishing. You’re just like, OK, we’re the spoiling grandma, Everything’s good. We’re telling Johnny, yes, good job and nice playing. And then something screaming happens and we’re not responding. We’re just not going to turn, keep the reinforcement going.

Dr. Schlinger: And I have a whole section in the book on planned ignoring and…

Mary: OK, good.

Dr. Schlinger: And how to use that. But you know, that has to be used in conjunction with positive reinforcement for alternative behaviors. So if the behaviors you want, and this gets back to the problem of paying attention to positively reinforcing the behaviors you want in your kids.

Mary: Right.

Dr. Schlinger: And not paying attention to or reinforcing the behaviors you don’t want.

Five Myths Regarding Reinforcement

Mary: Right. OK, so in Appendix two, five myths regarding positive reinforcement, we have, we really covered this pretty well. I think myth one reinforcement doesn’t work with humans. We pretty much said, like, the science works. You know, we are humans, we are animals. It works with animals, it works with humans. It works with kids with disabilities, kids without, adults. Myth number two, using positive reinforcement is bribery.

Dr. Schlinger: Yeah, yeah. That’s a pretty common one. The definition of bribery is giving somebody something to do something bad. You give them something before they do it, like, here’s ten dollars, go do this. And but positive reinforcement is giving somebody something after they do behavior to get them to do the behavior again. And I have to say, you can positively reinforce good behavior or bad behavior. As I talk to my students, I tell them reinforcement is an equal opportunity consequence. It will reinforce, it will strengthen or increase good behavior, and it will strengthen or increase bad behavior. The point of the book is to become aware of the good behaviors that you want and make sure that you intentionally reinforce those and don’t reinforce the bad behaviors that you see. So, yes, it’s definitely not bribery, that’s just by definition, it’s wrong.

Mary: I have, I talk about bribery in my turn autism around book and I have a graphic there, too, when I. I kind of say if the child is doing the right behaviors and we’re in charge of the reinforcement and we might even offer a promised reinforcement like birth, we’re going to go to the haircut, then you’re going to come home and you’re going to get X, Y, and Z, that’s reinforcement. That’s adult led and it’s proactive and preventative. And then bribery is when the child’s already whining, crying, screaming, blobbing. And now you’re saying you’re offering a bribe to straighten up? Well, the kid in the candy aisle flopping and then you’re like, you know, and I realize that scientifically it might involve negative reinforcement or positive punishment and all other things. But I think just in general, layman’s terms, that threatening and bribery all happened kind of in the middle of problem behavior.

Dr. Schlinger: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I think that’s true.

Mary: So myth number three, using positive reinforcement is unnatural.

Dr. Schlinger: Well, that’s obviously not true is as all of our behavior is reinforced all of the time. You know, I mean, I tell my students, I sit here at my desk, if it’s a little dark, I reach over and I flip the switch on my lamp and the light comes on. My behavior of pushing the switch in the lamp has been positively reinforced because the light comes on and I will be more likely to do that again. And so it’s no more unnatural than, as you mentioned earlier, gravity is unnatural or the laws of thermodynamics or anything else are unnatural. Now, what people might mean by that is it might be unnatural to intentionally use it. But the question that I would pose is, would you rather use it inadvertently or unintentionally and teach your kid bad behaviors? Or would you rather use it consciously and intentionally to try and increase good behavior, to build good behavior? And that’s I think that’s the choice that you make. I hope people choose the latter.

Mary: One of my former clients, Cody, who’s featured in the book and his mom was on the podcast in the past. I remember I had a student come over to observe me working with Cody and her and her supervisor or something, came over to the house and they said afterwards they were watching me, working with him mostly at the table and delivering reinforcement. And they were shocked by how dense the reinforcement was. And that’s where people are like, oh, well, we don’t use edibles and we don’t use screens. And we’re not, you know, it’s like… Well, how are you going to change behavior? Well, toys or stickers are probably not going to do it for a young child without language. In order to get the language, we’re really going to have to use powerful reinforcers.

Dr. Schlinger: And the whole point of doing that is to thin them out and to gradually fade them away so that the more natural reinforcers which are there, you know, constantly in our environment, take over. And once they do, then people don’t really notice the reinforcement because it’s automatic, it’s subtle. So you don’t really notice. It’s natural. So, yes, I think that maybe instead of unnatural, people might have a problem with it being contrived, but you only contrive it when you want to build good behavior. And then once you do, then other natural reinforcers take over and you don’t have to keep doing that as much anymore.

Mary: Right. Which is myth number 4 using positive reinforcement as manipulative. I don’t think we really need to…. We just kind of covered that. And then myth number five is using positive reinforcement undermines intrinsic motivation. Yes.

Dr. Schlinger: Yeah. Well, yeah, that’s a really constant criticism bias by a small group of people. It seems like it’s a bigger group than it really is, but it’s a small group of very vocal people who make that criticism. It’s based on really flawed research. And I don’t really think we need to deal too much with that, because if we go back to what we just said, which is if you start off with with contrived reinforcement for behavior and then you fade it out gradually, then the kids doing it because the kid likes it and because the kid wants to do it. Well, there’s your intrinsic motivation, right?

Mary: Right. Like Lucas is twenty five now. And we took him to a program to learn how to ride a bike 10 years ago, and we let the bike sit and he hasn’t ridden it for over five years. So we got the bike fixed and like going out for the first time, I had to have a big promise reinforcer. I mean, he was really nervous. Yeah. So, like, first we’re going to go out, mommy’s going to help and somebody else is going to be on a bike. And it was a little touch and go, I’m like, oh boy. Now , you know, and we set out with the promise reinforcer what would happen after the bike. And now, you know, his therapist took him out on the bike the other day by herself with no prompting needed. He was able to get on. In the end, he had a smile on his face. So it became like, that is a reinforcer now. And that’s where we’re constantly pairing and making neutral things positive. So that, but whenever you’re talking about a hard task or adding a hard task like so he’s been going to the barbershop for years. But then we decided, you know what, it would be better if he let, because he doesn’t tolerate the spray very well. It would be better if he used the sink and she could really shampoo his head. So to add that task, we decided, OK, we’re going to add the task and we’re going to add a positive reinforcer. Now he goes. And it’s part of the routine. So I think hopefully those are our good kind of applicable suggestions for people. So when they think about reinforcement, it’s used, it’s planned. And, you know, and sometimes it can’t be edibles. The child’s on a tube feed or it can be screens. The family, there a no screen family. Perfect.

Dr. Schlinger: In one of the chapters, I talk about different kinds of reinforcers. And there are two kinds that are free and easy and abundant. And the first one is attention and praise. And the second is the Premack Principle, which is and we’ve used this with our son since he was before he could walk. And essentially what that means is that you look at what the kid’s doing, whatever the kid’s doing is the stuff the kid prefers to do. Right. Kids and adults, we all whenever we do where we don’t have to work, that’s the stuff we prefer. And so we always try to identify what he wants to do with the moment. And if there’s something we want him to do, then we simply say, OK, that you can do what you’re doing now. But first we want you to practice your piano, or first we want you to do your homework, or first we want you to clean your room. But then you have to make sure you follow through, because a lot of parents teach their kids to debate and negotiate and argue by saying, well, I’ll do it, I won’t do it now. Like, my son will say things like, I promise I’ll do it. Like, no, you don’t, you won’t promise you you have to do it now or let me just finish this. I’ll do it in a few minutes and parents go, OK, as long as you do it. But then guess what happens. They don’t do it. So if you tell your kid, OK, I want you to clean your room, pick up your toys, then you can go play on your iPad or whatever, then you follow through and make sure that they only get the iPad if they do what you ask them to do. And if you’re consistent doing that, then things will go smoothly for you. You know, your kids are really smart at finding the soft part, the soft underbelly. Right. They’re really good at finding the loopholes, the weak spots, really good. And we teach them to be really good at doing that. And it’s really difficult to be consistent so that we don’t allow them to do that.

Mary: OK, well, I, I know there’s a ton more in the book. I definitely would recommend it. How to Build Good Behavior and Self-esteem in Children by Dr Henry (Hank) Schlinger. And you can get this at Amazon or wherever you buy books. That true?

Dr. Schlinger: It’s on, yes.

Mary: OK, and then your website is That’s where we can look for your other books and your work. And it’s all very exciting. And I, really this is our first meeting, our first of many hopefully in the future. I think we’re definitely in alignment on so many issues. And so it’s been a pleasure to get to know you better. So what, before we wrap up and let you get out of here, part of my podcast goals are for parents and professionals to be less stressed and lead happier lives. So what is your advice, as stress management tips or self care tools?

Dr. Schlinger: Well, the title of the book is How to Build Good Behavior and Self-esteem in Children. And throughout the book, I talk about if you if you use positive reinforcement to build the good behavior that you want, not only will your kids have more self-esteem, but they will be happier and more relaxed. And if your kids are happier and more relaxed and doing the things that you really want them to do and not doing the things that you don’t want them to do, not arguing, debating, screaming, tantruming crying, then that’s the best stress management I can think of for parents with kids.

Mary: I think that’s very good advice, and I know as a mom to son with autism and a son without autism, that is all true. And I thank God every day that I did become a behavioral analyst. And I have the power to change behavior in my sons and, you know, former clients, online participants, and the world, because the science is very powerful and you retain a passionate advocate. And I thank you for your time today. Hopefully our listeners have enjoyed it. I know. I have. So thank you so much.

Dr. Schlinger: Well, thank you, Mary. If they do go to the website, they can contact me through the website or they can sign up for, you know, for updates or whatever. So and they can also get the book from the website. And I want to thank you for inviting me to be on your podcast. I’m a little disappointed that I’m number, what am I? Number one thirty nine or something?

Mary: One thirty nine.

Dr. Schlinger: Yeah. I would have preferred to be a little earlier but that’s OK. I’m happy I’m at least before 140 so.

Mary: Yeah. Yeah. So and I would love to have you on again in the future so…

Dr. Schlinger: Please let me know.

Mary: All the show notes that we mentioned all the resources will be at and thank you so much for your time.

Dr. Schlinger: Thank you. I appreciate it.

Mary: If you’re a parent or professional and have benefited from the information you learn from me on this podcast or from my Turn Autism Around Book or from my online courses, I would love to hear about your success. Please go to and fill out a very short survey. On the survey, you could upload your book or podcast review or you can share a picture or video and tell me how your life has been impacted. I will personally review everything submitted and I would love to hear from you. I’m on a mission to turn autism around for millions of children around the world so that each child can be as safe, as independent and as happy as possible by writing a Turn Autism Around, Amazon or podcast review and by sharing your story with me, you’ll be able to help others find out about the Turn Autism Around resources so they can start turning things around, too. I can’t wait to hear all about your success at Thanks so much.