Preference Assessments - ABA Training

October 21, 2019

Do you know what the different types of preference assessments are? Do you know when and how to use each one?

If you’re serious about making your intervention absolutely reinforcing in order to foster student progress, then this article is for you!

Every Thursday morning, the employees of Crossroads Center for Children compile together for a meeting which is called “Briefings.” Many items of information are shared and discussed at Briefings, and often we have trainings at this time.

This past Thursday, a training session was presented by our team of BCBAs (Board Certified Behavior Analysts). This training was about procedures for preference assessments, and chock full of content. There was a great deal of discussion as well as hands-on learning.

This post is for those who weren’t able to be present in person, and for our readers interested in the nuts and bolts of preference assessments. There are video links included in their article as well. Please reach out to our authors with questions!


A training presented to employees at Crossroads Center for Children, 10/17/19

by Kelsi Brown, Megan Streeter and Ashlie Symer

Board Certified Behavior Analysts

Crossroads Center for Children

1136 N Wescott Road

Rotterdam, NY 12306


Reinforcer: A stimulus change that increases the future frequency of behavior that immediately precedes it

Preference Assessment: A variety of procedures used to determine the stimuli (item, activities, etc.) that the person prefers.


Interviews, Observation, Single stimulus methods, Paired stimulus, Multiple stimulus methods

Observation: FREE OPERANT

Observe the child for a predetermined amount of time without interference. The items the child approaches

consistently and engages with for the longest are considered the child’s highest preferred items, and the items

that the child does not approach are considered the child’s lowest preferred items. Use the sheet on the

following page to identify more information (i.e., how do they react if you try to take it away, as you present do

they reach for it immediately, etc.)

Advantage: Good for students who have difficulty making choices and working on instructional control

Disadvantage: Difficult to arrange the environment

Paired Stimulus: FORCED CHOICE

Each trial in the paired choice preference assessment consists of the simultaneous presentation of two stimuli.

Each stimulus is matched with all other stimuli in the set. The observer notes which stimulus the earner

chooses. The stimuli are rank-ordered in terms of high, medium, and low preference based on how many times

a stimuli is chosen.

Advantage: Reliable results and multiple opportunities

Disadvantage: Takes longer to complete


Multiple stimuli are presented and the learner chooses a stimulus. It is not replaced and the remaining stimuli

are rearranged while the learner engages with the selected item. The item is removed and the next trial begins.

The items are ranked based on preference of which was selected first, second, third, etc.

Advantage: Reliable results, multiple opportunities, and less time consuming

Disadvantage: Removing reinforcers can be difficult


Chazin, K.T. & Ledford, J.R. (2016). Free operant observation. In Evidence-based instructional practices for

young children with autism and other disabilities. Retrieved 

Cooper, J.O., Heron, T.E., & Heward, W.L. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River:

NJ.DeVries, J. M.


Thank you, BCBAs, for this important training, and for your work each day with students, families and co-workers.


See why so many school districts and families turn to Crossroads!

Crossroads Center for Children is a nonprofit organization serving children and families from all over the Greater Capital Region. The school was founded over 20 years ago to help children diagnosed with Autism, and today also serves children with other special learning needs, as well as a growing number of children with general education needs who attend Crossroads as nursery and daycare students in our integrated preschool classrooms. The center includes a full day school program for preschool and school age students, as well as a clinic.

Friends Helping Friends, 2019Thank you, Kiwanis Club!