Let’s set the scene. A person working with your child decided to implement your child using a break card to get a break during activities that are challenging for them. At first, the break card seemed to work and your child wasn’t falling to the floor or crying as often. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the crying came back into the picture in an extreme way. Now your child is falling to the floor, crying AND biting themselves. When is it time to throw away the break card and start over?
First, take a deep breath. Now let’s talk about why this is a good thing. Yes, you read correctly. This is a great problem to have! In Applied Behavior Analysis, we have a term for something that happens often called an extinction burst.
What is an extinction burst? First let’s talk about what extinction is. Extinction is when we no longer provide reinforcement or punishment to a behavior by simply ignoring the behavior or manipulating the environment so that the behavior isn’t reinforced anymore. This can bring about a change in the behavior. All of a sudden, your child isn’t engaging in the behavior anymore. However, your child may begin to notice this and try with one last full effort to engage in the behavior to gain the reinforcer they’ve been using for so long.
Those old tricks and habits can be hard to change right? This is the case for clients in an ABA therapeutic setting as well. While the client may want a change, it may be harder for them so they use one last ditch effort to see if the easy way can gain them access again to what they want. This is what an extinction burst is. The good news is remaining consistent with the intervention in place to keep the behavior on extinction will help the behavior to eliminate completely in the near future.
So when you see a behavior increase, “keep calm and carry on” as the saying goes. Soon your life and your child’s may look different, but in a positive way with less behaviors!