Is a Behavior Intervention Needed?There are many behavioral interventions that we use in the fieldof education, and for many different reasons. If a child isdemonstrating a behavior that is deemed aggressive orundesirable, it may be time to discuss an intervention. Parents,teachers, or other professionals who work with a child can helpto determine if there is a need for a behavior intervention.Examples of behaviors that can be encompassed in the realm of“aggressive or undesirable” include, but are not limited to:• Sarcasm• Put-downs• Verbal aggression• Interrupting• Shouting• Pinching• Scratching
Behaviors – What are they and why do they occur? Behaviors include our actions and the general way in which we behave. Behaviors can be desirable (greeting a friend with a hug) or undesirable (looking around the room when a friend is talking to you) as defined by the parameters of ones culture. All people exhibit behaviors. Behaviors occur because of consequences. These consequences reinforce the likelihood of that behavior occurring again. Behaviors and consequences are not always bad; for example, a child might engage in the behavior of waving at an adult because the consequence is the adult waving back. The child is reinforced by the waving and will likely engage in that behavior again. A less desirable example would be a child hitting his little brother because the consequence is attention from mom. Although this may not seem like desirable attention, it IS desirable for that particular child. As a result, they will probably hit their little brother again because they know that mom will give the child attention (even if it is a verbal reprimand or even time-out).
Extinction as an InterventionThe best course of action for undesirable behaviors may be extinction(also known as planned ignoring).Extinction is “the procedure of choice with milder forms of aggression”and other undesirable behaviors.(McGinnis, p.195).Extinction is “the withdrawal or removal of positivereinforcement”(McGinnis, p.195) for the behavior targeted for change.The reinforcers of a behavior are “withheld or ended, and studentsreceive praise or positive reinforcement for demonstrating appropriatebehaviors”(Salend, p.269). Extinction serves a two-fold purpose –eliminating an undesired behavior and increasing pro-social behaviors.After determining the behavior in need of change, we then need todiscover the purpose of the behavior. What is the child getting out of thisbehavior? Attention? Escape from an activity they do not want to do?Avoidance?Please copy and paste the following into a web browser and watch:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAYGOQwobDE
How does extinction work?The most important part of the extinction intervention is determiningWHY the behavior is occurring(what is REINFORCING the child).Only then will we know what reinforcer to remove!“Very often, the answer will be attention. Looking, staring, yelling at,talking to, or turning toward are common teacher and peer reactionsto a youngster’s inappropriate behaviors”(McGinnis, p.195). It canbe difficult to accept that children might be actively seeking negativeattention, because to many of us that would be unpleasant.However, all of the listed reinforcers could very well be encouragingthe child to continue engaging in the behavior. These are the veryreinforcers that we, as parents and teachers, need to consistentlyREMOVE every time the child engages in the behavior targeted forchange.
Case Study – Extinction in ActionKevin is a 7 year old boy who attends school in a self-contained classroom. Kevinhas moderate developmental delays but understands what is being said to him. Kevinhas many methods of communication (some verbal words, sign language, and a dynavox). However, Kevin displays aggressive behaviors to the staff members in hisroom. Simple eye contact with Kevin often sends him into aggressive behaviors andhe will scratch or bite any staff member near him – even if they weren’t the one givingKevin the initial attention. While he is aggressing, Kevin is making very definite eyecontact with other staff members to see how they will react to his violent actions.Often, they tell him to stop, engage him in conversation (“I don’t like that. We havenice hands in school”), stare at him, or reprimand him. Kevin appears to crave thatattention.The behavior specialist creates a behavior plan for Kevin which largely includesextinction. Every staff member in the classroom is given a tutorial on how to infusethis plan throughout the day. Any time Kevin engages in aggression, no one is tomake eye contact with him, run over to try and stop him, reprimand him, or removehim from the room. He is to receive no attention for this. The person who he isaggressing at will calmly, slowly leave the situation and go elsewhere, carrying aboutwith their day as normal. Staff can re-engage Kevin with the task at hand after a 2minute wait period.
Case Study – Con’tIt isn’t enough that just the staff members in Kevin’s room stick to thisplan. The behavior specialist sent a memo to every classroom in theschool, including the Art and Physical Education teachers, explaining thatthroughout the day Kevin’s aggressive behaviors should be ignored. Thiseliminates the possibility that if Kevin aggresses in the hallway, anunfamiliar staff member won’t react and thus give Kevin the attention hewants. This extinction plan must carry over in every part of the schooland with every staff member, and even at home.Along with ignoring the problem behavior, staff should be regularlypraising his desirable behavior (“Wow Kevin, I love the way you aresitting in your seat!” “Kevin, great job keeping your hands to yourselfduring snack time!”). This way, Kevin will start to see that he is getting farmore attention for his more “appropriate” behaviors.Initially, Kevin went through an “extinction burst”. It is not uncommon for“the rate and intensity of the aggressive behavior to increase sharplybefore it begins its more gradual decline toward zero”(McGinnis, p.197)(This can be frustrating and discouraging for the adults implementing thebehavior intervention, but in reality, the extinction burst really shows thatthe extinction is starting to work.)
Case Study – Con’tAfter the extinction burst phase (where Kevin’s behaviors becamemore frequent and more aggressive), the staff in his room and hisfamily at home began noticing a gradual decline in Kevin’s aggression.Another event to watch for, that Kevin has yet to display, is known asspontaneous recovery. This occurs when the behaviors that havebeen successfully extinguished reappear occasionally for reasons thatare difficult to determine (McGinnis, p.197).Kevin almost never aggresses at school anymore. The fact that theadults around him were extremely consistent with the plannedignoring(extinction) program lead to the dramatic decrease inaggressive behavior.
Where is the research? The following are 3 empirical articles that support extinction as a successful behavior intervention. The articles include real interventions done onchildren of varying ages and disabilities. All articles presented have been peer-reviewed.
Article 1-http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.govThis study was conducted with 3 children, all of whom havedevelopmental disabilities and engaged in the same self-injuriousbehavior – head banging. However, the head banging served a differentpurpose for each child. Student A (age 7) desired attention, Student B(age 12) desired escape, and Student C (age 8) head-banged for thesensory input. After several treatment techniques, reductions in the self-injurious behavior were observed only when extinction was implemented.(Iwata, Pace, Cowdery & Milternberger, 1994).Article 2 - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1226158/This intervention took place in a preschool setting and dealt with children’snoncompliance during transitions. The children involved were aged 14months, 22 months, and 15 months. All children displayed zero or near-zerocompliance and low to moderate levels of problem behavior during thebaseline, warning, and toy conditions. During the extinction phase,compliance immediately increased in all conditions. Although extinction wasshown to be a functional component of the intervention, it is unknownwhether target behaviors were maintained by positive reinforcement (accessto the play activity) or negative reinforcement (escape from the toiletingroutine) because, as implemented, the extinction procedure eliminated bothpotential sources of reinforcement. (Cote, Thompson & McKerchar, 2005)
Article 3- doi: 10.1080/07317107.2012.684654Article 3 was an extinction intervention on several families whowanted to decrease the amount of nights that their children spentsleeping in bed with their parents. The children in questionranged from ages 2 through 6. Three sessions were conductedwith each parent. At the first session, parents described bed-sharing history and began collecting baseline data. At the secondsession, parents were instructed to employ the intervention. Atthe third session, parents were interviewed and offeredcontinued support, if needed. Participants included three childrenwho slept with their parents 4 or more nights per week. Theintervention resulted in a substantial decrease in bed-sharingbehavior for all participants, and parents reported being satisfiedwith the intervention(Roberds-Roach, Short & Lerman, 2012).
Implementation Guide**In order for extinction to be effective, it needs to beimplemented across ALL SETTINGS in the SAME MANNER.** Identify the behavior(s) in need of change. Is a behavior change warranted? Is this something the child might grow out of, or is it entirely undesirable? Explore the reasons for the behavior. Why does the child continue engaging in that behavior? In other words, what purpose does it fulfill? Attention? Escape? Avoidance? The consequence of the behavior is the REINFORCER. Identify the main reinforcer. Often, the reinforcer is attention. Withhold the reinforcer ACROSS THE BOARD. Every adult and older child needs to consistently ignore the behavior in its entirety. This will be difficult. The behavior may get much worse before it gets better. The key to implement extinction is consistency – everyone in the child’s life needs to practice planned ignoring. In home, at school, in a center setting – extinction procedures are the same. The physical settings are different; the reaction to the behaviors will not be. The child should not be able to receive the reinforcers in ANY setting. Prepare for an extinction burst. This will be challenging, but remember, it means that the extinction plan is starting to work! Remember spontaneous recovery. For reasons unknown, the behavior might occasionally resurface. Stick to the initial extinction plan. Above all – remember to keep with it! This is not an easy thing to do. This is not a “quick fix”. This can take months to become effective, but remain consistent.
ReferencesCote, C., Thompson, R., & McKerchar, P. (2005). The effects of antecedent interventions and extinction on toddlers compliance during transitions. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 38(2), 235-238. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1226158/Iwata, B., Pace, G., Cowdery, G., & Miltenberger, R. (1994). What makes extinction work: An analysis of procedural form and function. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 27(1), 131-144. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.govMcGinnis, E. (1997). Skillstreaming the elementary school child. Champain, IL: Research Press.Roberds-Roach, D., Short, M., & Lerman, D. (2012). An intervention using extinction to decrease bed-sharing in 2- to 6-year-old children. Child and Family Behavior Therapy, 34(2), 156-162. doi: 10.1080/07317107.2012.684654Salend, S. (2011). Creating inclusive classrooms. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.