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The Essential Guide to Extinction in ABA Therapy for Autism

The Essential Guide to Extinction in ABA Therapy for Autism

Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA therapy, utilizes various interventions to promote positive behavior changes in those with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis. Extinction procedures in ABA refer to the fading and eventual elimination of maladaptive behavioral patterns. When the problem behavior the ABA provider is targeting is no longer occurring, it is “extinct,” concluding the therapeutic process for that target behavior.

Extinction procedures effectively address and eliminate behavioral patterns that can be harmful or destructive. However, providers and caregivers should use extinction and response-blocking techniques responsibly and clearly understand their protocol. It’s also critical that everyone applying these procedures understands the function of the behavior before implementing them and adjusting treatment goals.

This guide by ABA Centers of Florida explores extinction procedures, among other ABA interventions that modify behavior, supporting those on the spectrum in learning new skills while redirecting and replacing those that hinder life. Additionally, we’ll discuss the importance of using these skills appropriately to ensure your loved one’s ABA therapy plan is always evidence-based and ethical.

With a thorough understanding of extinction and appropriate reinforcement techniques in ABA, you can help shape behavior for better outcomes and life experiences. So read on for essential guidance in understanding and applying these interventions in context to the more complicated features ASD can sometimes present.

Click here for more information about ABA therapy and the autism diagnostic process with ABA Centers of Florida.

What Is Extinction In ABA Therapy?

In ABA therapy, positive reinforcement strategies encourage demonstrating positive behavior, as described by Autism Speaks. Negative responses to maladaptive behaviors are ineffective in stopping their occurrence. For example, yelling “stop” does not prevent the child from dropping to the floor when asked to complete a task (particularly if, previously, the drop eliminated the task). Even though shouting “stop” is seemingly negative attention, any attention often maintains a behavior concerning ASD.

Extinction involves withholding reinforcement of a previously reinforced behavior to reduce or eliminate the behavior. When a behavior no longer receives reinforcement, it decreases in duration, frequency, and overall occurrence. With extinction, the behavior no longer receives reinforcement, reducing its frequency, duration, and widespread occurrence, according to the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder.

When the client demonstrates undesirable behavior during extinction procedures, we withhold reinforcement. For instance, in response to maladaptive behavior, the provider or caregiver doesn’t provide the client with eye contact or physical/verbal reactions that maintain the behavior in extinction. Inaction causes the behavior to extinguish organically.

Furthermore, the provider offers positive reinforcement for positive behavior change and replacement activities that serve the same purpose.

Extinction procedures address complex behaviors those on the spectrum can sometimes demonstrate, including but not limited to:

  • Communication difficulties
  • Dangerous, aggressive, and self-injurious behaviors
  • Eating/ sleeping distress
  • Other inappropriate social behavior

Examples of extinction in practice for better outcomes in ABA:

  • A child with autism displays aggressive behavior when denied access to a preferred item, such as a toy or snack. In response, the ABA provider implements an extinction procedure by withholding the desirable item and ignoring the aggression until it stops. Over time, this teaches the child that aggressive behavior will not result in obtaining the desirable item. From there, the child learns a more appropriate communication to access the highly motivating reward.
  • A teenager with autism engages in self-injurious behaviors when feeling overwhelmed or anxious. The provider implements an extinction procedure by removing any reinforcing attention or escapes from demands during these episodes and offers new behaviors that help the child regulate suitably.

Ultimately, individuals learn new, more appropriate behaviors through effective extinction protocols, leading to a better life and increased participation while addressing impairments like impulse control, poor communication habits, and self-management skills.

What Is Response Blocking?

Response blocking involves physically preventing or interrupting a behavior from occurring. This intervention is helpful when the behavior poses a risk to the individual or others and needs addressing immediately. With response blocking, providers can help individuals learn more functional behaviors while minimizing the negative impact of these challenges.

In response blocking, the behavior does not occur. In extinction, the behavior happens, and it is not blocked. However, the reinforcement that typically follows does not.

By consistently implementing these techniques, the individual learns more appropriate coping skills for managing these experiences. As a result of the techniques, they will be less likely to engage in dangerous, self-injurious behaviors in the future.

What Is an Extinction Burst In ABA Therapy?

An extinction burst is an impermanent, short-term increase in a behavior’s frequency, intensity, or duration, no longer receiving reinforcement. Extinction is a last-ditch effort from the individual to obtain the previously received reinforcement. However, if the behavior no longer receives attention, it will eventually decrease and be extinguished.

The Importance of Proper Implementation

While extinction and response blocking can be highly effective interventions, providers must use them appropriately to ensure success. These techniques require clear and consistent communication across all individuals working with the individual receiving therapy, including caregivers and educators.

Additionally, proper training and ongoing supervision from certified ABA providers like Board Certified Behavior analysts (BCBAs) and Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) are necessary to ensure all perform these techniques correctly and ethically.

It is also important to note that extinction and response blocking should not be a first-line intervention. Instead, providers and caregivers should only implement them after conducting a behavior assessment to determine the underlying causes and functions of the behavior. These steps ensure everyone working with the child uses the techniques appropriately and in the individual’s best interest.

One of the most common mistakes people make utilizing these skills is not applying them consistently, leading to undesirable behaviors becoming unintentionally reinforced. Reinforcing maladaptive behavior can sometimes occur unintentionally, highlighting the need for communication. Additionally, some use extinction procedures as punishment, which rarely works, worsening circumstances and leading to more maladaptive expressions.

Lastly, it’s essential to identify factors that may influence the behavior, such as the request, people in the room, temperature, levels of distress, etc., as described by the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. In most cases, mistakes using extinction can be avoided with the proper knowledge and expertise, ensuring meaningful progress.

Regarding the ethical practice of ABA therapy, it is crucial to consider these techniques carefully. While they can be very effective strategies for reducing challenging behavior, they can also cause harm to the individual receiving therapy if not implemented correctly or mindfully.

ABA Therapy Promotes Positive Behavior Change

Extinction and response blocking are powerful interventions in ABA therapy that can significantly improve behavior and quality of life for individuals with autism. By withholding reinforcement and using physical intervention to prevent unwanted behaviors, individuals can learn more appropriate ways to communicate and cope daily.

However, trained professionals in a comprehensive ABA program must ensure all using these techniques do so appropriately and ethically.

Remember, with patience, consistency, and support, anything is possible! So, keep learning and never give up on the journey toward successful ABA therapy for autism!

More About ABA Centers of Florida

ABA Centers of Florida allows families to make meaningful progress through ABA therapy services that are ethical, safe, compassionate, and practical. Our expert team of ABA providers uses ABA intervention techniques in a way that is both evidence-based and personalized to the needs of the kiddo receiving ABA care.

If you want to learn more about ABA therapy services with us and how we can help you implement these techniques to enhance your loved one’s life, call us at (772) 773-1975 or contact us here to get started!

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