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!