When we see a problem behavior reoccurring in clients its most likely due to the behavior being reinforced by a family member or support staff and in most cases is done unintentionally. The way someone reacts when a problem behavior occurs can increase a behavior and by changing our response, we can decrease how often it occurs. Behavior plans for problem behaviors are created by that clients BCBA and involve identifying the function of the behavior, changing how we respond to that problem behavior, and teach an alternative behavior through functional communication training (FCT) that would still get them the same outcome as what the problem behavior was giving them. ABA therapists use a common method known as extinction to discontinue reinforced problem behavior as a PART of behavior plans that are well planned.
What is extinction?
In common terms, extinction is known as when something no longer exists. In ABA therapy extinction refers to the elimination of problem behaviors through a series of therapeutic processes. It can be an effective way to eradicate a reoccurring problem behavior. Behaviors occur because something motivates them. When a problem behavior occurs its usually motivated by a response and continues because the person receives the wanted reinforcement. Extinction eliminates the response to problem behavior and teaches new appropriate behaviors that serve the same function and are reinforced.
Could it really get worse?
Often when BCBA’s implement extinction procedures, extinction bursts occur. In which a problem behavior (may be a different challenging behavior and they may be more intense) increases for a period of time. When the problem behavior no longer receives reinforcement, a client might resort to more intense behaviors or alternative challenging behaviors. This can become a very challenging time as it will seem that their behaviors have gotten worse. Patience is key and eventually the even more intense behavior will stop because they are not being reinforced.
As a result, what you will see occur is the client will begin to learn that when they follow instructions and choose to engage in the appropriate alternative behavior that is being taught, they receive the reinforcement they want. This will continue to encourage them to engage in the alternative behavior rather then the problem behavior. This plan is taught to all who serve the client so that it may continue to be reinforced. If all parties adhere to this behavior plan, those who serve the client will begin to see the behavior decline and eventually will stop completely.
It is important to note that for an extinction plan to work, consistency is a key component to success. The worst thing you can do during an extinction plan is only implementing it some of the time and giving in by reinforcing problem behavior because you may think at the time its easier then dealing with the extinction burst period. When not being consistent you begin to teach the client that if they engaged in a specific level of problem behavior, they WILL receive the reinforcement they are looking for.