What Is Extinction Behavior Analysis, and How Does it Work with ABA?


What is Extinction?

Extinction behavior can be used with behaviors previously maintained by positive or negative reinforcement and by naturally occurring sensory consequences. Each of these procedures is discussed further in the following section.

Extinction is derived from Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and involves procedures aimed at withdrawing or terminating the reinforcementassociated with an inappropriate behavior. Because there may be a learning history in which the unwanted behavior has been reinforced over a period of time, changing the consequence to no longer reinforce the behavior may lead to an increase in the frequency (i.e., how often the behavior occurs), duration (i.e., how long the behavior lasts) and/or intensity (i.e., how intense or powerful the behavior is) of the target behavior, referred to as an extinction burst.

The above image shows effects of positive reinforcement which then needs to be negated using Extinction​

For instance, if a student’s inappropriate comments are suddenly ignored by the teacher, the student may initially increase her rate or volume of inappropriate comments. The student’s increase in behaviors can be thought of as “trying harder” to get the teacher’s attention. If the teacher’s attention (reinforcement) is consistently withheld, then the student’s inappropriate comments will eventually decrease. However, extinction behavior analysis has been used with other intervention strategies to successfully teach children and adults with ASD a multitude of functional, meaningful behaviors and responses that discourage the use of inappropriate behaviors.

Additional intervention strategies, such as functional communication training (FCT), differential reinforcement, non-contingent reinforcement, self-management, or response interruption/redirection (RIR) may be used to prevent or minimize the occurrence of an extinction burst and to teach the learner more appropriate, functional behaviors to replace the problem behavior.

What is the Goal of Extinction Behavior Analysis?

When using extinction behavior analysis, it is imperative to communicate one central message to the learner–

The behavior is no longer effective and/or efficient at achieving its purpose, and other more appropriate behaviors can achieve your goals.

How this message is communicated to the learner may vary depending on the function of the learner’s behavior, the beliefs and priorities of the parents, and the specific contexts in which the problem behavior occurs. Extinction can be used with behaviors previously maintained by positive or negative reinforcement and by naturally occurring sensory consequences.

Therefore, the main goals of extinction include:

  1. Reducing and eliminating interfering behaviors
  2. Replacing interfering behaviors with more acceptable and appropriate behaviors

Examples of specific skills that were the focus of extinction interventions in several evidence-based studies include:

  • Functional communication
  • Self-injurious behaviors
  • Sleep problems
  • Eliminating challenging behavior during classroom instruction
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