Finding Out Your Child’s Preference

What does your child play with often? For some, they can quickly come up with a list of preferred items their child enjoys. While others may struggle to find items that are appropriate for their child. Some children can fixate on one or two items while may have a variety of items they enjoy. Finding a method to see what your child is interested in each day may help for you to be able to engage in play skills or other activities.

In Applied Behavior Analysis, a way to identify items your child may be interested in as a reinforcer is called a preference assessment. There are several different ways to conduct a preference assessment that may help you gain new or different reinforcers for skills and activities your child is engaging in.

There are 9 different types of preference assessments that are broken down into three categories: Asking the child, observing and trial based methods (as seen in the diagram below).

Asking the person is any type of preference assessment that you ask the child to rank, make a choice, or answer an open ended question.

  1. Choice- Make a choice between items
  2. Rank ordering- Ranking items by most preferred to least preferred
  3. Open ended questions: Asking the child what they like, how much they like it, etc

Observing the person is any type of preference assessment where you observe the child playing in the natural environment.

  1. Contrived free operant- placing items strategically in the environment to see what the child gravitates towards
  2. Naturalistic free operant- watching the child play in their natural environment with toys

Trial based preference assessments are types of preference assessments where items are placed strategically on a table and the child is required to choose an item or engage with a reinforcer

  1. Single Stimulus- One reinforcer is given at a time and the amount of time the child engages with the toy/item is recorded to see what their preference is
  2. Multiple Stimuli with/without replacement- A child has several items placed in front of them and are told to choose one (this is a type of ranking preference assessment but the child is just told to choose instead of verbally ranking). If you are replacing the item with a different item it is called with replacement and if you continue to have the child pick an item without replacing the toy/item it is called without replacement.
  3. Paired stimuli- Where two reinforcers are given at the same time and the child is requested to make a choice.

For visual examples of how to set up each preference assessment to determine which one would work best for your child, see Vanderbilt University’s Evidence Based Instructional Practice videos on where they show each type of preference assessment.



Works Cited:

  1. Dillon, L. H. (2018, July 13). Preference Assessments. Applied Behavior Analysis – ABA made simple! Retrieved May 23, 2022, from
  2. YouTube. (n.d.). Vanderbilt EBIP. YouTube. Retrieved May 23, 2022, from