Teaching Delay & Denial {what’s missing from your communication instruction}

Categories: Interventions

We have talked a lot about replacement behaviors. Your behavior plans and interventions will never work if you forget to teach an appropriate response for accessing the desired reinforcement (ie. function of behavior). When we first start teaching the replacement behavior, we have to get that buy-in. We have to teach that this behavior (asking for attention, using a break card, using an AAC device, etc.) WORKS. And not only does it work but it works in a bigger, better, badder way that the problem behavior.

My Starbucks Example:

I use this anecdote a lot in PDs. I love Starbucks. I go to Starbucks all the time. The function of my going-to-Starbucks-behavior is to gain access to coffee. Let’s say one day I drive to Starbucks and it’s closed. Even thought I didn’t get my coffee that day, it didn’t take away my desire for coffee. The next day a Dunkin Donuts opens. The Dunkin Donuts is closer to my house, there is never a line, the coffee is cheaper, and every time I go they give me a free donut. Even if the Starbucks reopens, where I am going to get my coffee from now on? I’m going to Dunkin Donuts. It’s an easier option that results in better reinforcement (ie. coffee + donut). It’s the ‘no-brainer’ option. We need to give our kids that no-brainer option when teaching and reinforcing replacement behaviors.

After you have taught the replacement behavior and provided consistent reinforcement, it’s time to fade it out.

In the real world, you don’t get the iPad every time you give an iPad picture. Sometimes the iPad is charging, you have work to do, or the iPad isn’t around. We want this replacement behavior to be functional. Getting what you want every single time you ask – although may feel awesome – is not practical or real world based. You need that consistent, immediate, and almost seemingly excessive reinforcement to build that new replacement behavior and then you have to fade it out. Fade that reinforcement once the student is readily using the replacement behavior and you see a decrease in the problem behavior.

Last month, I went to Dr. Greg Hanley’s two day presentation on Practical Functional Assessment. My BCBA friends – I highly recommend this two day seminar. One (of the many) take home points that I was excited to share here was his focus on teaching delay and denial after we have successfully taught replacement behaviors for problem behaviors. This ties in exactly to what I’m talking about today. We need to teach students that sometimes they have to wait for reinforcement and sometimes reinforcement is not available.

Teach Delay

We want to teach students to wait after they use their replacement behavior to request reinforcement. This is a completely practical skill. Mom isn’t always going to have a fanny pack filled with hot chicken nuggets, iPads, gummy bears, and play dough available at all times. I have seem a lot of waiting programs that I don’t love. I have seen many well meaning teachers or therapist just slowly increase the amount of time a student can wait. They start with 5 seconds, then go to 10, then 20. This can be alright but you want to ensure that the student nows what they are waiting for. When a student uses the replacement behavior and asks for something – you know they want that reinforcer right now. You have the motivation ready.

Arbitrarily offering preferred items for a specific wait time period may not be effective. The student may not want the item right now. So when Johnny asks for your attention, say, “hold on.” Wait a few seconds then provide reinforcement. Build up the time you are wait but don’t be so rigid about it. Life does not follow rigid time interval increases. Keep it varied. Maybe today Johnny had to wait 5 minutes but tomorrow he only has to wait 10 seconds. Keeping it unpredictable will maintain the motivation and mimc the real world.

Teach Denial

Sometimes you just have to say no. Sometimes reinforcement is not available. I get that the idea of saying no to an appropriate response is scary. You worked so hard to reduce the problem behavior the thought of even a few minutes of regression is terrifying. Remember – you already know how to decrease the behavior. You did once and you can quickly do it again. So don’t let that obstacle get in the way. A functional skill is one that can accept denial. Every time you ask your boss for money- does he give it? No way. That’s not reality. Dr. Hanley talked about teaching an appropriate response to being told no. Basically a disappointed behavior. Something like shrugging your shoulders or saying “oh well.”

Model and teach that response. When Johnny asks for iPad, I say, “no not right now” and he does the disappointed response (that I’ve taught him), I’ll say, “What a great response. Never mind, let’s have some iPad now.” You want to provide reinforcement for that disappointed behavior. Then soon, redirect back to task even when the disappointed behavior occurs. Remember that idea of keeping it unpredictable. Keep doing that! Sometimes when Johnny asks for iPad in the middle of a work activity say, “no not right now” and other times say “sure okay” and push the work to the side and hand that iPad over. Keep it so varied that your student is staying on his toes. He is still motivated to use that replacement behavior because it does work sometimes.


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