Extinction Burst in ABA: Definition, Causes & Managing Strategies

Master extinction burst ABA strategies for your child's autism therapy - calm, consistent, and confident.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
July 16, 2024

Extinction Burst in ABA: Definition, Causes & Managing Strategies

Understanding Extinction Bursts

In the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), it's important to understand the concept of "extinction bursts" as they are a common occurrence during the behavior modification process.

Definition and Explanation

Extinction bursts in ABA therapy occur when a behavior that has been reinforced in the past is no longer reinforced, leading to an increase in the frequency, duration, or intensity of that behavior. This increase is known as an extinction burst [1].

For instance, if a child has learned that throwing a tantrum leads to getting a piece of candy, and the parents suddenly stop giving candy during tantrums, the child may initially throw larger and longer tantrums. This escalation is an example of an extinction burst. For more real-world examples of extinction bursts, refer to our article on example of extinction burst.

Behavioral Response

Extinction bursts happen because the individual has learned that a particular behavior leads to a reward. When the reward is no longer given, the individual may become frustrated and may try harder to get the reward, resulting in an extinction burst. This reaction is due to the principles of operant conditioning, where the removal of reinforcement creates a state of frustration and confusion, leading individuals to engage in an escalated level of behavior in an attempt to regain the lost reinforcement [2].

It's important to note that while extinction bursts can be challenging to handle, they are a temporary and predictable response during the behavior modification process. Persistence and patience are key during this stage, and there are strategies available to help manage these bursts. For more information on how to navigate through this stage, refer to our article on how to manage extinction bursts during aba therapy.

Causes of Extinction Bursts

Understanding the causes of extinction bursts in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is critical in devising effective strategies to manage these occurrences. Two main factors contribute to the onset of an extinction burst: the withdrawal of reinforcement and the subsequent feeling of frustration.

Reinforcement Withdrawal

Extinction bursts occur due to the principles of operant conditioning. When a behavior has been consistently reinforced in the past, the individual learns that performing that behavior leads to a desired outcome. However, when this reinforcement is suddenly removed, it can lead to an increase in the frequency or intensity of the behavior. This phenomenon is known as an extinction burst.

In the context of ABA therapy for children with autism, an extinction burst might occur when a child is no longer rewarded for a particular behavior that was previously reinforced. For example, a child who is used to getting a toy when they tantrum might increase the intensity of their tantrum when they no longer receive the toy. This occurrence is a common feature of an extinction burst and is driven by the child's history of reinforcement and the strong association between the behavior and the reinforcement.

Frustration and Response

The removal of reinforcement creates a state of frustration and confusion, leading individuals to engage in an escalated level of behavior in an attempt to regain the lost reinforcement. This reaction is a natural response to the sudden change in reinforcement and is part of the learning process.

The frustration resulting from reinforcement withdrawal can lead to an increase in the frequency, intensity, or duration of the behavior. This reaction is a critical aspect of an extinction burst and is often the most challenging part for parents and therapists alike. However, it's essential to remember that this response is temporary and expected, depending on the complications of one's autism symptoms [4].

Understanding the causes of extinction bursts can help in devising effective strategies for managing these occurrences during ABA therapy. For more information on how to handle extinction bursts, check our section on how to manage extinction bursts during aba therapy.

Managing Extinction Bursts

Successfully managing extinction bursts in Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy requires a strategic approach. It's crucial to remain calm, consistent, and patient, as well as to provide alternative behaviors that can be reinforced positively. This section focuses on these critical tactics in managing extinction bursts in ABA.

Calm and Consistent Approach

During an extinction burst, remaining calm and consistent is key. When a targeted behavior no longer produces the desired outcome or reinforcement, an individual may exhibit escalated responses in an attempt to regain the lost reinforcement.

In such situations, it's important to stick to the extinction procedure without wavering. Consistency is crucial, as sporadic reinforcement can prolong the extinction burst and lead to confusion for the individual undergoing ABA therapy.

In essence, the calm and consistent approach involves not reinforcing the escalated behavior, thereby helping the person understand that this behavior will not yield the desired results. For example, if a child throws a tantrum because they are not getting their way, giving in to their demands would reinforce this behavior. Instead, staying calm and not giving in helps teach the child that tantrums are not an effective strategy.

Providing Alternatives

Alongside maintaining calm and consistency, providing alternatives is another effective strategy in managing extinction bursts. This involves teaching and reinforcing alternative behaviors that are more acceptable and can serve the same function as the challenging behavior.

For example, if a child is used to getting attention by acting out, teach them more appropriate ways to seek attention, such as asking for help or using a calm voice. Reinforce these positive behaviors immediately to increase their frequency and decrease challenging behaviors.

Remember that dealing with extinction bursts is a process. It requires patience, consistency, and the right strategies. It's a phase that will pass, and with time, the challenging behaviors will decrease, leading to more positive and desired behaviors. For more insights on managing extinction bursts, you can read our article on how to manage extinction bursts during aba therapy.

Types of Extinction Bursts

As part of the process in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, it is important to understand that extinction bursts can take various forms. They can manifest as tantrums, aggression, and attention-seeking behaviors. Depending on the individual and the behavior being targeted, these manifestations can vary.

Tantrums and Aggression

Tantrums and aggression are common forms of extinction bursts in ABA therapy. When a previously reinforced behavior no longer produces the desired outcome, there may be an initial increase in the frequency, intensity, or duration of these behaviors. This increase is a mechanism in which the individual attempts to regain the previous reinforcement.

For instance, a child who used to receive attention for throwing tantrums may escalate this behavior when the reinforcement (attention) is removed. This escalation is temporary and is followed by a decrease in the behavior towards cessation (extinction) [6].

Attention-Seeking Behaviors

Another form of extinction bursts in ABA therapy is attention-seeking behavior. This can occur when an individual attempts to reinstate a behavior that was previously reinforced with attention. When the attention is removed, the individual may increase the frequency or intensity of the behavior, seeking to regain the attention.

For example, a child who was previously given attention for interrupting may increase this behavior when the attention is withdrawn. It's important to note that this increase is temporary and is part of the process of behavior extinction.

Understanding these types of extinction bursts is crucial for managing them effectively during ABA therapy. Therapists, along with families, play a vital role in teaching individuals better social skills in an environment that promotes positive reinforcement, which can help alleviate extinction burst events.

For further discussion on how to manage extinction bursts during ABA therapy, refer to our article on how to manage extinction bursts during aba therapy.

Duration and Persistence

Understanding the duration and persistence of extinction bursts is crucial in managing these behavioral responses effectively during ABA therapy.

Temporary Nature

Extinction bursts in ABA therapy occur when a behavior that has been reinforced in the past is no longer reinforced, leading to an increase in the frequency, duration, or intensity of that behavior. These bursts are a temporary and predictable response during the behavior modification process.

The duration of an extinction burst can vary, with some lasting only a few minutes or hours, while others may persist for days or even weeks. It's important to note that the duration of an extinction burst can range from a few minutes to several days, depending on factors such as the individual's previous reinforcement history, the strength of the behavior, and the consistency of the extinction procedure [3]. For more information on the duration of extinction bursts, visit our article on how long does extinction burst last in aba?.

Patience and Consistency

When dealing with extinction bursts, it is crucial to remain patient and consistent. The process of behavior change is often marked by periods of increased challenging behavior, known as extinction bursts. These periods can be difficult for both the individual and caregivers, but they are a natural part of the behavior change process.

Consistency in applying the extinction procedure is key to successfully managing extinction bursts. Any inconsistency may inadvertently reinforce the challenging behavior, prolonging the extinction burst and making future behavior change efforts more difficult. For tips on how to manage extinction bursts during ABA therapy, visit our article on how to manage extinction bursts during aba therapy.

Extinction bursts also play a crucial role in ABA therapy as they provide valuable information to therapists about the effectiveness of their interventions. By closely monitoring and analyzing behaviors during an extinction burst, therapists can gain insight into the underlying factors driving challenging behaviors and develop targeted intervention strategies for behavior modification.

In conclusion, it's important to remember that while extinction bursts can be challenging, they are a temporary and predictable part of the process. With patience, consistency, and the right approach, you can successfully navigate these situations and support your child on their journey towards positive behavior change.

Strategies for ABA Therapy

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is a significant tool in managing and mitigating the effects of extinction bursts. Two primary strategies in this regard include conducting a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and teaching functional communication skills.

Functional Behavior Assessment

Conducting a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) is crucial for addressing and managing extinction bursts effectively in ABA therapy. An FBA involves analyzing the antecedents (what happens before the behavior), the behavior itself, and the consequences (what happens after the behavior). This systematic process helps in identifying the factors contributing to challenging behaviors, such as an extinction burst.

The FBA provides valuable insight into the reasons behind the extinction bursts, guiding the development of appropriate intervention strategies. These could include modifying the antecedents or consequences, or teaching new skills to replace the problematic behavior.

For more details on how an FBA works in the context of ABA therapy and extinction bursts, click the provided link.

Functional Communication Skills

Another essential strategy is teaching functional communication skills. Equipping individuals with alternative ways to communicate their needs and wants can reduce their reliance on challenging behaviors. This, in turn, can ultimately minimize the occurrence of extinction bursts [5].

This may involve teaching the individual to use words, signs, or symbols to indicate their needs, or training them to use an alternative behavior that achieves the same outcome as the problematic behavior. For example, teaching a child to ask for a break, rather than engaging in a tantrum, can reduce the likelihood of an extinction burst.

These strategies are part of a broader approach to managing extinction bursts in ABA therapy. Remember, patience and consistency are key in dealing with extinction bursts, as they are often a sign that the therapy is working. For more information, explore our articles discussing the duration of an extinction burst or the causes of an extinction burst.

References

[1]: https://www.goldenstepsaba.com/resources/extinction-bursts

[2]: https://www.adinaaba.com/post/extinction-bursts-in-aba

[3]: https://www.abtaba.com/blog/extinction-bursts-in-aba-therapy

[4]: https://www.crossrivertherapy.com/aba-therapists/extinction-bursts

[5]: https://therapybrands.com/blog/how-to-manage-extinction-bursts-during-aba-therapy/

[6]: https://www.healisautism.com/post/extinction-burst