G-15: Use extinction ©

Important note: Fictionalized clients are used to demonstrate the skill items in the second half of the task list, sections F-I. They make the most sense when read in order. Please remember that there is not substitute for real-life supervision and consultation. Get your case-specific advice from professionals – not from the internet! These examples are just that – examples of how behavior analytic skills might be applied.


Case example: Jada is an elementary school student. She experiences Level 3 Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Level 3 is the severity level of Autism which is characterized by “requiring very substantial support.” Jada has also been diagnosed with a severe Intellectual Disability (ID). Jada has just transferred to a private school for individuals with global needs. She loves all kinds of play and messy activities, such as finger paint and water play. She also enjoys swinging on the playground, eating popcorn, and watching Disney movies. She loves to be read to, and laughs when staff make dramatic gestures while reading picture books. Jada does not use any vocal speech. She makes noises sometimes, such as humming. Jada engages in motor stimming, including upper body tensing and flapping her arms. Jada engages in severe challenging behavior, including self injury (hand to head and head to surface) and aggression (including hitting and biting). Jada has a mom, dad, and older brother living together in one home. Jada’s family has advocated for her to attend a private program, and they are excited for her to get high quality services. Jada’s new behavior analyst is Dr. Brown-Davis, who is a BCBA-D employed by the private program.

Example of Item G-15: Dr. Brown-Davis considers that one of the functions of Jada’s unsafe behaviors is escape from demands. He chooses not to design an intervention involving “pure” extinction, in which Jada is physically forced to complete all demands. He makes this choice because the resulting escalation could be very dangerous for Jada and staff, because he does not think it would be dignified for either Jada or staff, and because he believes that Jada’s motivation to escape can be used to teach her valuable communication, self advocacy, and toleration skills. Instead of “pure” extinction, Dr. Brown-Davis designs an intervention in which Jada’s staff withhold reinforcement for problem behavior (extinction) and instead prompt/reinforce replacement behavior (differential reinforcement). 


Case example: Donovan is a high school student. He has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). He attends a public school and has been placed in a support program for students with social/emotional/behavioral needs. Donovan enjoys playing video games and drawing in his sketchbook. He would like to be a welder when he is an adult. Academic achievement and attendance have been challenges for Donovan historically, and he is currently not on track to graduate with his peers due to missed work and failing grades in several classes. Donovan’s team has identified challenges including frequent non-attendance to school, walking the halls during class times, non-attendance at expected guidance appointments, and non-completion of classwork. Donovan lives with his mother and older brother. Donovan’s mother is concerned about her son’s school challenges and expresses frustration about his “lack of commitment” to his education. She wants Donovan to understand how important it is to graduate from high school. Donovan’s behavior analyst is Ms. Bailey, who has just started contracting with Donovan’s school district through the agency she works for.

Example of Item G-15: Ms. Bailey is focused on encouraging Donovan to ask for breaks (negative reinforcement) when he gets overwhelmed with work instead of pushing over his desk and walking out of the room. Ms. Bailey’s goal is for Donovan to eventually say “I need to take a break from work” (terminal behavior). However, she starts by providing a break from work anytime Donovan puts his head down instead of pushing over furniture and leaving the room. She then moves onto providing a break from work whenever Donovan says “I’m done”. Finally Ms. Bailey allows a break from work after Donovan says “I need to take a break from work”.

When Ms. Bailey changes the behavior being reinforced during the shaping process, she is doing so by providing reinforcement for the new topography (form) of behavior, while placing other topographies of behavior on extinction. For example when Ms. Bailey begins facilitating escape when Donovan says “I’m done”, she places Donovan putting his head down on extinction. If Donovan puts his head down (previously reinforced), Ms. Bailey keeps presenting work (extinction) until Donovan says “I’m done”.

By differentially reinforcing alternate behavior, Donovan begins to push furniture and walk out of the room less frequently. The alternate behaviors have been strengthened, and Donovan engages in those behaviors more frequently than the maladaptive behaviors


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