Sensory Behaviors {Reinforce Intervals without Behavior}

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.
  • 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



  1. Sensory behaviors have always been the trickiest for me. Thanks so much for including them in your summer series!

  2. Can I ask whey there was a big drop then a big jump again in the scripting data? Loving this series!

  3. What data program do you use? I would be interested in getting that.

    Also, I used this strategy with a student this year who had very aggressive behaviors. It worked very well. It was pretty intensive at first, but we were able to gradually fade back and he was still successful.

    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  4. Hope this was helpful 🙂

  5. Great question! I returned to baseline (ie. removed the intervention) to prove that the intervention lead to the decrease in scripting behavior. Once the intervention was re-implemented – the scripting returned to zero! Treatment reversal can show in a powerful way that it was your intervention that lead to a behavior decrease!

  6. I use Numbers on the iPad to chart the data. It’s super simple and easy to use!

  7. my greatest problem is the student who has no preferred reinforcers! doesn’t like computer, ipad, drawing, etc. sometimes likes food, then doesn’t. such a puzzle, and after a year, we have not found anything that works! Hoping he has done some maturing over the summer!!

  8. When I have a student who seems to have no reinforcers, I schedule in observation time. Students usually find something in the classroom that piques their interest. Once I see even the one item that they seem to like, I try to figure out why they like that item – what does it do for them – shape, size, feel, look, etc…
    Then I try to make sure that I look for other items that might provide similar experiences. Build up a box of things that work – it takes time. Do not give up! Allow access to the box and then use his choices as reinforcers for the day, the hour, or however long you can.
    My student who was like this, just really liked sensory experiences. Once we figured that out (it took about 3 months before we did), we stopped using other tangibles, we just searched for different ways to give him deep pressure input and he loves it! Now he has started developing an interest in books! Be patient and keep watching!

  9. That’s hard! What about food? Sometimes reinforcers are finishing a task, staying with the group, etc. Also – ask the parent – sometimes they have some novel ideas! 🙂

  10. I have a student who was like this until I realized that he enjoyed things that others might not find enjoyable. He enjoys using a hole puncher to punch paper, tearing paper, removing staples from walls, etc. These ended up working with my student.

  11. I had a student that worked for tearing paper! Everyone thought I was crazy but it worked like a charm! 🙂

  12. Sasha,
    I love all of the great ideas I get from your page! What in the world do you do when the student seems “too low” cognitively to understand what you are trying to accomplish?

  13. I know what you mean. Instead of relying on visuals and trying to explain the contingency – use repetition to show the child the consequences for behavior. Ie. give other reinforcers and lots of attention when behavior is not occurring. This may take longer for student to understand but eventually the student will pick up on the relation. Hope this helps!

  14. I am going to implement this with my son who has extreme Echolalia. I have some questions.

    1. How many trials did you do each day? Did that change over time?
    2. What mastery criteria did you use to know when to increase the time?
    3. How long do you make the intervals at maximum?


  15. Great questions. The initial time interval will be based on the baseline data. So how does he typically go between instance of echolalia – whatever that time period is – pick an internal just below that. For example, with the student here we started with 20 seconds because it was typically occurring on average every 30 seconds. You want to pick something doable. For your other questions, that will depend on the student, his process, and the time you have to dedicate towards this. We eventually went from 20 seconds to 15 minutes (over many months) and once we hit 15 minutes added in a token economy component (so he got a point after every 15 minutes to be exchanged later in the day). Hope this helps!

  16. I am curious what success looks like. So with this one child he would get a token for every 15 minutes without Echolalia. How long during the day did he work for tokens? I.e. how many 15 minute trials were there for him in a typicyal day?

    Also, what did his Echolalia look like outside of this time? Was there generalization to other situations and home time? Or was there an ‘explosion’ of Echolalia when he got home?


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