Preferences and Reinforcers for Students With Profound Multiple Disabilities: Can We Identify Them?

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Previous research has documented that there are limits to our current knowledge about procedures for identifying preferences and reinforcers for individuals with profound multiple disabilities as compared with other individuals with less significant disabilities. In this paper, we review the procedures used by other researchers to assess preferences and identify reinforcers for these individuals. Two experiments were completed that adapted the preference assessment and reinforcer testing procedures described by these researchers. These included changes in the trial and session format and the type of stimuli presented during the preference assessment, types of student behavior studies, and the research design used during reinforcement testing. Results show that while more preferences were identified with the adapted procedures, this increase did not lead to the identification of more effective reinforcers. The reinforcing effects of the preferred stimuli were idiosyncratic among the students and the data were variable both within and across participants. Implications for practice are discussed.