Thursday, April 2, 2015

I was ignoring you first.

Extinction is one strategy that behavior analysts may employ in order to eliminate or reduce the frequencies of so-called unwanted "problem" behaviors. It involves a consistent withdrawal of stimuli or events which had previously been reinforcing the responses in question, which had thus been making them happen again and again.

Even though extinction can cause unpleasant side-effects, such as frustration during the withdrawal of positive reinforcers, they will use the tactic when they determine that an autistic child is engaging "inappropriately" in attention-seeking behavior.

In their defense, this approach, if done thoroughly and over the long haul, can eliminate temper tantrums, for example, in demand of candy in the grocery store, by ignoring the tantrums, and of course, by only giving a little candy to a child who asks nicely, but not often, as this can develop into diabetic eating habits. So extinction of unacceptable behavior can be coupled with attention to acceptable alternative behaviors and the withdrawal of reinforcement to one behavior is not so frustrating when reinforcement continues after the occurrence of the alternatives.

So what happens when the child ignores the "therapist" as soon as the therapist approaches the child?

I had a friend named Harv. After the happy non-alcoholic gay gatherings in the kind of community groups that were popular in New Jersey in the 1990s, he and I would ride home in the car together, just the two of us. He would say something a little off kilter or we would simply ride in silence, knowing each other well as good buddies, and I would respond, "I'm ignoring you."

He replied, "You can't ignore me. I was ignoring you first."

Then we kept repeating it, claiming in turn how we were each ignoring the other guy first.

Wasn't he clever?

Weren't we childish?

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I am an advocate for people with disabilities certified to teach special education with a Master of Arts in Teaching. I am not a Licensed Psychologist or a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. When in doubt, seek the advice of an MD, a PhD, or a BCBA. My ability to analyze the ethics of ABA stems from the fact that I am disabled and ABA interventions are often done to people like me, which I voluntarily accept, but only when I alone am the person granting consent, and not a parent, sibling, guardian, or institution.