An intervention to reduce both disruptive and dangerous sensory behaviors is providing high magnitude reinforcement for time intervals WITHOUT the behavior. This intervention can be done with any type of behavior really – attention, escape, etc. The key is to provide some really stellar reinforcement. You asking the child to reduce a behavior that they probably have a very long history with and a behavior that is very reinforcing. They aren’t going to do all the work of reducing the behavior for jelly bean or two. Use high powered reinforcers with this interval!

How to Set up this Intervention: Identify an achievable time interval that the student can go without engaging in the behavior. Use your baseline data! If the behavior typically occurs  every 3 minutes, make the time interval 2 minutes. The interval will be short and doable. You need your student to contact success and get some buy-in to the intervention. When the time interval is complete without any instances of the problem behavior – provide the reinforcement. If the student engages in the problem behavior, restart the interval. This provides a punishment aspect for the behavior.

Tips for this Intervention: This can be used more easily with students with more language. Explain the rules. Put a name for the behavior you are trying to decrease so you have a way to talk about it. When reducing scripting, have a name for it. We called it “bad talking” with a student to reduce this behavior. We didn’t want to reduce all talking but more specifically the disruptive and violent themed scripting behavior.

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  • Use visual timers or an iPod app to illustrate the length of the timing.
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  • Fade this to a token economy. Student can earn a point for every interval without a behavior and exchange points for reinforces.
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  • Use visuals to clarify the rules.
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Teacher Success Story: My most successful intervention I have used this for was for a student whose scripting was OUT OF CONTROL. It completing limited his chances for inclusion and was very disruptive to his own learning. We used this intervention starting at 2 minutes. After 2 minutes with no scripting he got a prize. And we made a big ole’ deal about this – praise galore and he loved it. We gradually increased the time – which we again made a big deal over, I called it graduating “You graduated to 4 minutes!” I would get crazy excited over this and you know what? He started increasing the time intervals on his own. Now he does 20 minute intervals where he earns a point and can trade in points at the end of the day (10 points can buy computer, 8 points busy candy, etc.). It has been A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! He went from scripting during 90% of the day to 0%!! Here is his graph – the blue is the percentage of the day he engaged in scripting (sorry for the bragging – but only you all would probably appreciate this!).


This post is part of Summer Series: Reducing Problem Behavior. Click here to see more in this series!

The Autism Helper - Summer Series