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Extinction -- Eliminating Problem Behaviors



Extinction is the most effective way to eliminate undesirable behavior, although it is not the easiest way to deal with problem behaviors. Punishment is the old fall back position, but rather than eliminating the behavior, it drives it underground, to pop up whenever the punisher is gone or removed.

Extinction requires ignoring or redirecting the target behavior. Research has shown it to be the most effective and permanent way to change problem behavior.

Because the target behavior may be dangerous, it is sometimes necessary to physically make the behavior difficult if not impossible. That is especially true of head banging and other self injurious behaviors. Ignoring the behavior is not an option. That means the focus needs to be on replacement behavior, and redirection as a way to avoid the problem behavior.

A Functional Behavioral Analysis (FBA) may be necessary to identify the function of the behavior, and to identify a behavior that will have the same function. If the behavior is meant to get attention, the trick is to reward an alternate behavior with attention.

Jeremy, a child on the autistic spectrum, bangs his head when he doesn't get what he wants quickly. He is wearing a helmet to protect his head, and the teacher and aide now are using a picture exchange system for Jeremy so he can use the pictures to let them know what he wants. He gets what he wants when he uses his picture exchange. He is ignored when he bangs his helmet on the table. His teacher has seen a consistent increase in his use of his picture exchange and they are nearing extinction, as he is only banging his head about 5%, or once a day (divided into 20 15 minute intervals.)

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