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Reinforcement Contingencies In Language Acquisition

Anna Ingeborg Petursdottir, James R. Mellor

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Childhood language delays and language impairments negatively impact educational outcomes and quality of life. In spite of previously prevailing views to the contrary, evidence suggests that children’s language acquisition is affected by contingent responses of caregivers and conversation partners, as well as by the other consequences of speaking. In other words, reinforcement contingencies play a role in language acquisition. Decades of ongoing research have documented how to arrange reinforcement contingencies to support acquisition of language and communication skills in children with varying degrees of language impairment. The existing expertise in this area should be leveraged in the design of service delivery models that provide opportunities for effective reinforcement contingencies to operate throughout the day and support acquisition of skills that have failed to develop through naturally occurring interactions.