In the realm of applied behavioral analysis therapy, the term “Extinction” is often used to describe the final cessation of maladaptive behavior. This often requires reinforcement from parents, teachers, and therapists. Extinction often occurs in combination with a variety of positive reinforcement techniques. Understanding these techniques and how they are applied in the ABA therapy process will help your loved one with ASD to achieve the best possible outcomes.

How Does ABA Therapy Work?

ABA therapy is typically the most effective way to help a patient with autism spectrum disorder to achieve positive treatment outcomes. It is an evidence-based therapeutic approach that uses behavioral psychology to both identify maladaptive behaviors, and track them and treatment.

An ABA therapist carefully develops a treatment plan to teach adaptive behaviors, while ending maladaptive behaviors, as well as helping the patient with ASD to retain positive behavioral changes. This includes improvements in the clinical setting as well as in the rest of their life.

As the leading treatment for autism, ABA therapy helps patients reach ever-increasing positive outcomes with things like:

  • Social skills
  • Communicating
  • Personal interests
  • Improved attention span
  • Self-care & Hygiene
  • Specific motor functions

Autism spectrum disorder can manifest different symptoms with different severity unique to each person. ABA therapy’s science-based approach helps identify each symptom, its severity, and other areas of potential improvement. Then customizes a treatment plan specific to each individual patient’s needs.

This approach means that ABA therapists use a wide variety of data-driven techniques to help their clients better manage their ASD symptoms. Therapists develop a treatment plan that monitors and tracks the results so they can determine through objective measurements whether the client is making progress or struggling.

Should a patient with ASD struggle to de escalate their maladaptive behaviors while adapting to more positive behaviors, the ABA therapist can carefully adjust their approach for optimum results.

How ABA Therapy Uses Extinction

ABA therapy focuses on several principles of behavior and techniques such as

These principles and concepts were pioneered by famed behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner. He described not only how a certain stimulus can elicit a specific behavioral response, but also how those responses can influence whether a specific behavior was repeated or not. B.F. Skinner demonstrated that some behaviors which received positive reinforcement would continue even after the reward was removed. This meant that certain behaviors could be conditioned over time via positive reinforcement and gradual phasing out of the reward.

ABA therapy for individuals with ASD doesn’t focus on punishment as a primary factor. It isn’t specifically used in most treatment plans. Instead, the removal of a reward can be implemented to discourage maladaptive behaviors.

In this context an ABA therapist might use the term extinction in ABA therapy applies to no longer provide reinforcement for any behavior that had previously been reinforced. This might include a reaction in anger if a child with autism does something disruptive. It might include slowly removing rewards from a token economy that encourages a child to develop a positive behavior. Though this is all contingent on the patient demonstrating that they can maintain that positive behavior.

What Is An Extinction Burst?

It’s important to note that extinction might also involve the withdrawal or removal of negative reinforcement techniques. In some cases, this might include things like direct punishment of disruptive behavior, related to a practice cultivated by a therapist, a teacher, or even a parent. In this context, the term extinction is designed to describe the removal or cessation of a specific stimulus.

ABA therapists often notice patients who experience an “Extinction Burst.” This is a somewhat common phenomenon that occurs when a maladaptive behavior suddenly gets worse before it improves. This happens to many patients whether they have ASD or not, as they attempt to improve maladaptive behaviors.

This is often linked to the fact that it takes time to learn new behaviors. Often time an extinction burst is coupled with aggression as well as other extreme emotional reactions. In a time like this continuing to implement and maintain the treatment is important. Suddenly changing in response to an extinction outburst might only serve to reinforce the maladaptive behavior’s return.

How Extinction With Rewards Can Be Combined With Differential Reinforcement

Differential reinforcement can also see extinction occur. Especially if it is part of a process that is focused on reducing problematic or challenging behavior. This calls for using a combination of positive reinforcement to reward good or adaptive behaviors while seeing extinction in key responses to negative or maladaptive behavior.

How Is Differential Reinforcement Used?

Differential reinforcement that leads to extinction often taps into several key methodologies.

This can include things like:

Differential Reinforcement Of Zero Rates

Also known as DRO, this is a process of providing a reward, or reinforcer, for zero occurrences of challenging behavior in a measured time period.

Differential Reinforcement Of Incompatible Behavior

DRI is a slightly different approach where the ABA therapist uses a reward for behavior that otherwise makes it hard to perform the challenging behavior. Let’s say that a child with ASD screams with excitement during a conversation, the therapist might reward them for using their “Inside Voice” during conversation rather than screaming.

Differential Reinforcement Of Alternative Behavior

Often abbreviated as DRA this is an approach where the ABA therapist uses rewards or finds some other way to positively reinforce a patient with ASD when they perform a different action than a maladaptive behavior.

Extinction Plays A Critical Role In ABA Therapy

In ABA therapy it’s important to keep in mind that extinction is a process of slowly reducing how often a reward is given to the child, to the point that the reward is no longer necessary. The goal is for them to be internally motivated away from maladaptive behavior toward a more positive outcome.

Applying extinction to a treatment strategy for someone with ASS supports the child’s learning process in a way that gradually reduces stress which might be leading to the resurfacing of challenging behaviors.

Many times an ABA therapist will use extinction in clinical sessions. When they do make sure that you and all other members of the child’s care team are on board with your interactions with your child. This way the positive behavior can be reinforced, while the maladaptive behavior can be removed.