Using High-Probability Requests to Gain Compliance for Non-Preferred Activities

As parents, instructors and service providers, we have all faced instances of working with someone who is engaging in undesired/non-compliant behavior and despite how much we push, the individual does not follow through with the task demand. One approach to address this pattern of behavior it to use a high-probability request sequence. A high-probability (high-p) request sequence is an intervention that you can use when you start an interaction where you will be asking the individual to complete a non-preferred task. This intervention is implemented at the beginning of the interaction and prior to the person engaging in undesired behaviors.

So what does the intervention look like?? An instructor/parent presents an “easy” task that the client consistently and accurately completes on his/her own, before presenting the task that is non-preferred to the client. Essentially, you are building positive behavior momentum by building from tasks you know they can do consistently to more difficult task requests. By pairing a preferred task with a non-preferred task, you are creating a situation in which the client gets to do a task s/he wants to do before being asked to do something s/he has not wanted to do. The behavioral momentum created by the high-p requests encourages the student/child to persist with the more difficult, low probability request. Benefits of using high-probability requests include an increase in socially appropriate behaviors and a reduction in non-compliance and escape-related behavior from task completion as well as a decrease in problem behaviors during transitions.

How Do We Use the High-Probability Request Sequence? 

  1. Start by making a list of high-probability tasks (easy tasks you know the learner can do). This can include motor movements or verbal responses the client can complete independently and will do without hesitation or non-compliance, 100% of the time. Examples could include clap your hands, touch your nose, say your name, draw a circle, etc.  
  1. Then use these high-p requests, presenting 2 to 5 quickly to the learner before the low-probability request.  
  1. Compliance with high-probability requests must be reinforced immediately after each response (e.g., verbal praise), and compliance with the low-probability requests must be reinforced immediately with a powerful reinforcer (i.e., a candy or preferred snack or toy). 

Here is an example for a learner who displays non-compliance when working on a spelling list task: 

Type of Request Direction Response Reinforcer 
High Probability Request Write your name Writes their name Great Job writing your name” 
High Probability Request Write the date Writes the date Excellent  
High Probability Request Underline the first word Underlines the word “You did a fantastic job underlining” 
Low Probability Request Copy the first spelling word Copies the word  Wow!!!” and then Provide  preferred reinforcer with the verbal praise  


Things to Keep in Mind 

There should be no breaks between instructions since the goal for the high-p request sequence is to build on the positive momentum created by the individual’s compliance with the initial, mastered tasks.  

If a client engages in problem behaviors, hold off from using the high-p request sequence right after the problem behavior because we do not want the learner to think that non-compliance gains them access to easier requests.  


–Daniel Enriquez, BCBA

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