It’s Gotta Get Worse Before It Gets Better

Categories: Interventions

If you are trying to convince yourself of this – I get it. I have to share this story again with you because I’m dealing with it all over again. The start of the year is jam packed with all kids of testing-the-boundaries type fun and holy crap can it be exhausting. If you are using planned ignoring for attention maintained behaviors, sometimes things are gonna get a little crazy.

So here’s the story: one of my student has a history of a lot of attention maintained behaviors. Last year it was screeching (can you say annoying??) and it was constant. However, we were successful at eliminating those completely. Now, this year a brand new one popped up – self injurious behavior of smacking himself on the thigh. And hard. He must have bruises. Based on the history of his behaviors and some ABC data it seems to be attention maintained again. So he is doing this behavior to get attention from peers or adults. We eliminated the screaming last year through planned ignoring. So we are doing that again with this new behavior.

It’s not uncommon for new behaviors like this to come up. Sometimes once a child is no longer getting reinforcement (in this case attention) from one behavior, they will use a new behavior to try to get the reinforcer – which is why we always need to be teaching an appropriate way to get the reinforcement! We do tons of communication and social skills training with this child but I think because of the summer break he has reverted to the inappropriate behaviors.

So anyways, my kiddo: so we are using planned ignoring for this attention maintained behavior. Today we had, what is called in the ABA world, an extinction burst. When you no longer give a reinforcer for a behavior (this is what planned ignoring is because we are taking away the attention) – it is called extinction. And sometimes when you use extinction this can cause an increase in behavior. I know! Hold the phone – aren’t we supposed to be decreasing the behavior??!? This increase is only temporary! And this burst usually tells you that you are on the right track.

A good example to think about this with is when you press an elevator button. You probably press it once and then wait. If no elevator comes you might press it again. If you are still waiting after a few more minutes, what are you gonna do? Probably pound away on that button right before you give up. So the extinction burst is that last push to try get reinforcement.

So let me tell ya – the extinction burst sucks. No nicer way to put it. Clench your teeth and bring your extra dose of patience because this the WORST TIME TO GIVE IN. You are then only teaching them that they need to be louder or more frequent with the behavior to get the reinforcement.

I spent all day today in the middle of thigh slapping (literally) extinction burst. I spent most my afternoon taking frequency data and trying to provide countless opportunities for this student to gain attention appropriately. I’m pooped. Thought I would take this opportunity to share with you all the woes of an extinction bursts and promise that if you find yourself in this situation – it will get better!

 

For more info on attention behavior interventions, check out my posts from the Summer Series on Reducing Problem Behavior!

15 Comments

  1. I am right there with you! My biggest struggle is how to manage the other kids in the room while I am in essence being completely devoted to one student. And he’s not the only one who needs my attention. I feel like I’m living in what I refer to as “perpetual triage mode.” I have 12 students & 2 paras whom I’m training as I go. Most days we just don’t have enough hands or people.

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  2. IF the behavior intervention doesn’t help this time, consider gut issues. Self injurious behavior is a big sign of GI issues in autism.

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  3. Thank you for sharing Sasha. I am dealing with a student who likes to press his fist against his forehead, and HARD. I went to a PD on “Managing Challenging Behaviors of Students with Autism” today and learned a lot about what the interventions you are referring to and more. Thank you for the encouragement – I am going to need it!

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  4. I’m right there with you!! My behavior consultant keeps saying, “This is a good sign, this is the extinction burst!” In a strange way it feels good to hear you say you are going through the same thing. Thanks so much for sharing Sasha!

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  5. I am right there with you Tracy! I co-teach in a full inclusion classroom and we have two students (one with an IEP & one without) going through this. I always feel like there is no way the two of us can manage them and the 16 other kids. I know it will get better but it’s good to read this and know our instincts are right!

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  6. Today was my day. I work one on one with a screamer, today it was all day the class really notices the extra noise.

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  7. Could not have said it better myself! Going through the same thing in my Autism classroom so its nice to know were not going through it alone :D. Keep doing what you do!

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  8. I so get what you are going through. My behavior student has the ability to pretend “cry” for two hours straight, and loud. I made a PEC for crying. Haha. He was speechless. I told him if he worked for 5 minutes, he could cry for 2 minutes!! Then I set the timer. He could not do it. It worked like a charm.

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  9. Thank you Sasha for sharing! Going through a similar experience.

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  10. Hang in there!

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  11. Hang in there! 🙂

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  12. Ugh screaming is the worse!

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  13. Love when that happens! 🙂

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  14. I am completely stuck in this situation. I have students who have sensory maintained behaviors (no biggie I can deal with that). But now one of my students has decided to imitate those students with the sensory behaviors to gain attention. I try to ignore it but there are so many imitations that he is choosing to do its hard for me to ignore all of them. I am going to keep trying to ignore the behaviors and a couple social stories to see what happens.

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  15. Planned ignoring can be very hard to implement – especially in a classroom full of children! What about adding a punishment component such as time out (which will remove attention)?

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