Cleveland ABA therapists

ABA Therapists Use “Extinction” to Reduce Interfering Behavior

The term “extinction” automatically conjures up mental images of long-gone dinosaurs and dodos. But our Cleveland ABA therapists are familiar with it for another reason. It’s a procedure we frequently use to reduce interfering behaviors for children on the autism spectrum or with other conditions.

“Interfering behaviors,” as noted by researchers at the at the M.I.N.D. Institute and the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders, are those that are disruptive or restrictive behaviors that can interfere with optimal development, learning and/or achievement.

“Extinction” is a formal term, but it basically means our ABA therapists want to get to the bottom of the function or cause of a certain behavior and then terminate access to that function in order to extinguish the behavior. We have to examine what is happening before and after the behavior in question to figure out how it’s being reinforced so we can understand why it’s still occurring. Then we cut off that reinforcement.

Extinction is frequently used to target or reduce interfering behaviors such as:

  • Screaming.
  • Tantrums/crying.
  • Excessive scratching/picking.

Extinction may not stop the behavior in every case, so it’s not always the the best choice of behavioral intervention – especially if we’re talking about behaviors that are highly aggressive or self-harming. Our experienced ABA therapists will be able to give you some insight into the strategy we’re employing to target these kind of behaviors.

Examples of Extinction Procedures Used by ABA Therapists

Some examples of how an ABA therapist can effectively use extinction procedures in ABA would include:

  • A child screams in the car when they want to hear the radio played. The adult previously used to plead and attempt to coax the child. An extinction procedure would mean giving no response at all to the screaming.
  • A child begins throwing themselves on the floor and screaming when he or she is ready to leave. Before, that would result in the therapist or parent picking the child up and leaving. An extinction procedure would mean staying until everyone is finished with their meal.
  • A child obsessively scratches or picks at scabs or wounds, causing harm to their skin. Before, therapists or caregivers gave instructions not to do this and may have even put the child in timeout. An extinction procedure might involve outfitting the child with cotton gloves.

Extinction is not simply about ignoring a child who is attention-seeking. Extinction though is withholding reinforcement in response to a behavior. In order to do this effectively, you have to know what reinforcement is. In some cases, ignoring the behavior is the reinforcement.

If ABA therapists are employing extinction procedures correctly, the behavior will start to dissipate over time. Sometimes it might get worse before it gets better, but it will eventually taper off.

Developing ABA Extinction Procedure Strategies

When we’re starting an extinction program, we have to start by:

  • Identifying the interfering behavior. We want to know what the behavior looks like, how often it occurs, how intense it is, where it occurs and how long it lasts.
  • Identifying data collection measures and baseline data. The idea is to collect enough data that we can start to see some patterns developing with regard to the behavior.
  • Determining the function of the behavior. Before we start any intervention, we want to figure out what purpose the behavior is serving for the patient. Are they getting attention? Are they gaining access to something tangible, like a toy or food? Are they being allowed to escape or avoid a task? Is there some type of sensory reinforcement in it for them?
  • Creating an intervention plan. This can involve ignoring the behavior, but it might also involve removing the reinforcing activities/items, disallowing escape of non-preferred situations or preventing the underlying sensory feedback from occurring.

If you have questions about how this technique can be applied to target your child’s interfering behaviors, our Cleveland ABA therapists are here to provide answers.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Akron and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

Steps for Implementation: Extinction, 2010, National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders

More Blog Entries:

ABA Therapists: Play-Based, Child-Led Therapy Most Effective in Motivating Kids’ Speech, Dec. 13, 2020, ABA Therapists Blog