Extinction is one of the first things practitioners and also parents will learn about in ABA. Many people think this means ignoring the child which is certainly not the case, what it actually is, is just ignoring the behavior. ABA practitioners use this procedure where reinforcement that was previously given for behavior is no longer given with the goal being a reduction of the behavior in the future.
It is important to know what the function of the child’s behavior is so you know how best to respond. Some areas where extinction is typically used are:
Escape maintained Extinction, this is where a child receives negative reinforcement. An example of this is something with a friend, we will call him John. John loved social studies and his teacher, who we will call Mr. Greg. Mr. Greg would let John sit in a bean bag chair and eat popcorn during class. John also had another teacher we will call her Ms. Jane, who did not let John sit in the bean bag chairs anytime he wanted and was not allowed to eat popcorn during her class. One day John was asked to complete a difficult math task, and he did not do it, so for his, “punishment”, he was sent to Mr. Greg’s class. This only increased future occurrences of John not completing tasks so that he could escape his work from Ms. Jane and go and enjoy some popcorn with Mr. Greg. To correct this what we had to do, is make sure that Ms. Jane not let John out of his work, his resistance to completing his work only increased for a short period, this is what we call an extinction burst, after a short time, John started completing his work for Ms. Jane without any issue.
Extinction of Positively Reinforced Behaviors. This is where a person gets something that they did not have prior to engaging in the behavior. This can happen to any child, and the best example for this is to think about those low shelves at the grocery store checkout line that contain all the candy and small toys, right at eye level for small kiddos, it is the perfect place for a tantrum to occur. So often as a parent you are in a hurry and just want to get out of the store, and you buy your child that candy bar they were screaming for. As simple as that your child’s negative behavior was just reinforced so the next time they go to the grocery store and get to the checkout line what are they going to do? In this case, what you would want to do is no longer provide them with the tangible item that they were screaming for. There are several things you could do, by turning this into a learning situation for your child, if they don’t have the skill to request an item, this is the best time to try and teach it and reinforce.
Not all behaviors can be ignored though such as any type of self-injurious behavior, or possibly dangerous behaviors such as elopement so be very careful when you write an intervention plan as often these behaviors are intermittently reinforced. As Shira states in the video below if a child is running away you can’t just ignore that behavior, so these are opportunities to teach replacement behaviors.
Things you can expect with an extinction procedure.
Extinction Burst, you will see this shortly after the extinction procedure has been implemented, this is when the behavior gets worse before it gets better. Getting through an extinction burst can be hard but in order to get the behavior to either reduce or go away completely, you have to not give in.
Spontaneous Recovery, this is when a behavior that has been reduced or eliminated, spontaneously comes back, it can be weeks and sometimes even months after behavior last appeared. It can be very easy in this situation when you’re not expecting it to give in, or just think that the procedure you put in place is not working.