• mentally retarded;
  • reinforcement;
  • stimulus;
  • assessment;
  • severely handicapped

We evaluated a systematic means of determining stimulus preferences among seven profoundly handicapped persons. Preferences were determined by observing student approach responses to individual stimuli. Results indicated that there were differential stimulus preferences across the multiply handicapped participants. However, results of the systematic assessment did not coincide with the results of a more traditional, caregiver-opinion method of assessing student preferences. A second experiment was then conducted with five participants to evaluate whether stimuli that were assessed to consistently represent preferences would function as reinforcers in skill training programs. Results indicated that stimuli that were systematically assessed to represent student preferences typically functioned as reinforcers when applied contingently. However, preferred stimuli as reflected by caregiver opinion did not function as reinforcers unless those stimuli were also preferred on the systematic assessment. Results are discussed in terms of assisting profoundly handicapped persons by (a) improving the effectiveness of training programs by increasing the likelihood of using stimuli that have reinforcing value and (b) increasing the overall quality of life by providing preferred stimuli in the routine living environment.