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Behavior Interventions without Extinction

Puzzle pieces plan a and plan b

Extinction is a consequence-based intervention that reduces the target problem behavior by withholding reinforcement. If you have a client that starts screaming to get out of a non-preferred task, they're doing that because in the past when they screamed they got out of a task, it was reinforced. When using an extinction procedure for this escape-maintained behavior, when the client screamed to get out of a task, you would NOT reinforce them with escape and maintain the demand or instruction.

While extinction can be very effective, it is essential to remember that it should not be used on its own. It is one piece to a treatment plan that should include antecedent interventions and differential reinforcement for functionally equivalent replacement behaviors. But what happens if you can't use extinction? The behavior you're trying to reduce might be too severe to go through an extinction burst, the environment might not support extinction procedures, or it might be a behavior that is difficult or impossible to withhold the reinforcement, like with many automatically reinforced behaviors. So what happens when we try to use some common intervention procedures without extinction?

Functional Communication Training (FCT)

FCT involves teaching the individual a functionally equivalent replacement behavior to the problem behavior. For example, if the client screams to escape a task, they can be taught to use a communication skill (e.g., asking for a break) instead of screaming. This can be effective, even with integrity challenges in implementing extinction, but if this is stretched too far, the challenging behavior will re-emerge.

The client may also display a bias towards engaging in the challenging behavior even if the reinforcement schedule benefits the alternative response more. Thus, response effort and competing contingencies should be carefully considered when designing FCT programs. Functional Communication Training may also maintain without extinction after a period of perfect extinction.

Differential Reinforcement of Other Behavior (DRO)

DRO without extinction...does this even make sense? Differential reinforcement of other behavior works by providing reinforcement for intervals in which the problem behavior did not occur, and no reinforcement is provided (extinction) when the target behavior does occur.

Targeting automatically reinforced behaviors with DRO is the closest example of this, as we are not in control of the reinforcement. DRO without extinction is sometimes effective but it requires a very dense schedule of reinforcement.

Non-Contingent Reinforcement (NCR)

Non-contingent reinforcement is an antecedent intervention that provides the functionally maintaining consequence (escape, attention, tangible) on a time-contingent schedule. This procedure provides the stimulus only based on time, not contingent on any behaviors that are going on, and therefore does not rely on extinction, although it is usually best when it is combined with extinction and other consequence-based interventions.

NCR holds up well without extinction, but as with all antecedent interventions, it is only going to have a momentary effect, not long-lasting behavior change. However, it works best when using dense schedules of reinforcement and you might see the effects deteriorate as the schedule is thinned.

While extinction is a widely used procedure, it should be integrated into a comprehensive treatment plan that includes antecedent interventions and differential reinforcement for functionally equivalent replacement behaviors. When extinction is not possible, alternative interventions like Functional Communication Training, Differential Reinforcement of Other Behavior, and Non-Contingent Reinforcement can be employed. Each intervention has its strengths and limitations, and their success may vary depending on the individual and the target behavior.

If you want to learn more about behavior interventions for challenging behaviors, be sure to check out our Masterclass: Behavioral Interventions for Challenging Behavior. It is a 4.0 CEU in-depth course covering everything you need to know about behavior interventions over 6 modules including

  1. Challenging Behavior: What is challenging behavior?

  2. Antecedent Interventions: What to do before the behavior occurs?

  3. Consequence Interventions: What to do after the behavior occurs?

  4. Punishment: When and how to utilize punishment?

  5. Implementation: How to implement interventions?

  6. BIP Troubleshooting: What to do when it doesn't work?

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