What is a Preference Assessment? 

Photo by: Vanessa Bucceri

When a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) first meets their client, they prioritize in building a positive relationship with the child. They want to know what their client likes and is motivated for.  BCBAs are all about reinforcing good behaviorBCBAs often receive information from caregivers and people who have worked with children in the past on what they like. We know that preferences change frequentlyso a BCBA will take time to systematically assess the child’s preferences after receiving recommendations from a parent.  

The most common way a BCBA finds out what a child likes is through a preference assessment. Most preference assessments contain 5-10 items that may include toys, snacks, or activities. The first set of choices that are used are often picked based on information from caregivers and what is available to the BCBA at the time. Some common things that children work for are crackers, breaks (just having time to lay down or sit), electronic devices, toys, and time in the gym or on the playground.  

The preference assessment included at the top of this post is called a Multiple Stimulus Without Replacement (MSWO). In this assessment the child is presented with multiple items (7 were used in the example) and they are asked to pick on item at a time, after they pick an item they get to spend time playing with it or eating it, and then that choice is no long available to them. This process repeats until the child has picked each of the items once, and the order in which they chose is recorded. Then the order in which the items are lined up is changed and the process starts over. At the end of the assessment items that a child chose first most often are identified at the high preference items. 

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