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Extinction in Applied Behavior Analysis

Extinction is often one of the first things parents will learn in ABA. Many people think that extinction is just ignoring a child, but that is not the case. What is actually happening is the parent or therapist is ignoring the behavior, not the child. Before extinction occurs, some form of reinforcement was most likely provided to try and stop a problem behavior. During extinction, reinforcement (positive or negative) is discontinued to eliminate the behavior.

Before extinction happens, it is common for an extinction burst to happen. An extinction burst is a temporary increase in the undesirable behavior that you are trying to eliminate. What this means is that the behavior is most likely going to get worse before it gets better or is eliminated. For this reason, everyone involved (parents, teachers, and therapists) must all be on the same page and agree on how to handle the unwanted behavior.

Here is an example of extinction:

A mom is in the check-out line at the grocery store when her child screams and cries because they want candy. The mom will give the child candy to make her child stop crying and screaming. This is an example of positive reinforcement. When the mom stops giving the child candy, the child might scream and cry the first few times. Once the child realizes they are not getting the candy by crying and screaming the bad behavior will most likely not continue.

There is no specific timeline for how long it will take for a behavior to decrease when using extinction. The amount of time can vary based on several factors.

It is important to reiterate that extinction is NOT ignoring a child, it is ignoring the bad behavior in hopes that it will decrease. If you are looking for help to help eliminate undesirable behavior, reach out to the LEAP Autism Therapy, and we can help come up with a plan for you and your child.


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