How to make parent's lives easier by teaching antecedent intervention strategies in ABA parent training
Almost all kids engage in challenging behavior at times, including those that are neurodivergent AND neurotypical, and as parents, we are left to do the best we can while our child screams for a toy in Target. But by including non-contingent reinforcement in our ABA parent training, we can improve their daily lives without reinforcing challenging behaviors. At the same time, we work on reducing the overall instances of these behaviors through ABA therapy.
Non-contingent reinforcement can be used really well by parents. Many times we ask parents to place behaviors on extinction at home, but doing that 100% of the time can be really hard and our therapy plans don't pause the real life that's going on around them. Maybe they are on the phone or at the grocery store or have siblings that they are attending to, and it's just easier to give in and reinforce the behavior to get it to stop. Non-contingent reinforcement is a great intervention that parents could utilize to minimize the problem behavior without reinforcing that behavior when it occurs. And it gives them a break from the struggles of extinction in those moments when they really don't have the ability to do it.
How to use NCR in daily life
Let's say the client is at the grocery store with his mother and other siblings and they typically have tantrums at the store because they want candy. Ideally, it would be great to just place that behavior on extinction and ride out the behavior, but how often is the parent going to have the mental energy to do that every shopping trip? Non-contingent reinforcement can be a lifesaver in these situations. Now hopefully you could go with them on a shopping trip to time out the appropriate IRT or latency for the non-contingent reinforcement schedule, but even if you can't, you can plan the details through detailed discussions with the parents. Once you determine an appropriate schedule, have the parent provide the reinforcer (in this case, candy) on the set schedule. By giving very small pieces (yes, this means cutting up Skittles into 4ths) of candy on this schedule you can reduce the challenging behavior from occurring because it decreases the motivation to engage in problem behavior to get candy and breaks the contingent relationship.
Is this functional?
Just give your kids candy every time they go to the grocery store to avoid the tantrums...problem solved!!! If only it was that easy, lol! Of course, stopping at this point is not functional and does not change the behavior in the long run. You should be in continuous communication about the challenging behaviors and fading the NCR schedule upon low rates of problem behavior. At the same time, we should be teaching functional replacement behaviors and placing the challenging behavior on extinction when it occurs. Non-contingent reinforcement is a tool to reduce behaviors in the short term and can help parents get through difficult situations or environments where they simply can not deal with a huge tantrum.
It's easy for behavior analysts to get comfortable with challenging behaviors because we know that working through them is going to lead to long-term progress. But it is often a mistake to overlook the challenges parents face by encountering these behaviors while they are going through all the things in their daily life that don't stop simply because their child is in ABA therapy. Teaching parents to appropriately use non-contingent reinforcement and other antecedent interventions can make implementing the treatment plan more manageable and improve the family's quality of life. Plus, by showing them some progress up front, we can improve their overall buy-in to our treatment plans and see more willingness to implement the harder things, like extinction.