What Are Extinction Bursts In ABA Therapy?

An extinction burst is a temporary increase in the frequency, intensity, or duration of a behavior that occurs when the reinforcement for that behavior is withheld.

reuben kesherim
Published By Ruben Kesherim
June 22, 2023

What Are Extinction Bursts In ABA Therapy?

What Are Extinction Bursts In ABA Therapy?

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is a widely used treatment for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities.

ABA therapy is based on the principles of behaviorism and focuses on teaching new skills and behaviors while reducing challenging behaviors.

One of the techniques used in ABA therapy is extinction, which involves withholding reinforcement for a behavior in order to decrease its occurrence. However, during the process of extinction, individuals may exhibit an increase in the behavior known as an extinction burst.

What Are Extinction Bursts In ABA Therapy?

What Is An Extinction Burst?

An extinction burst is a temporary increase in the frequency, intensity, or duration of a behavior that occurs when the reinforcement for that behavior is withheld.

For example, if a child is used to receiving attention for tantrums, and the attention is no longer provided, the child may initially throw more tantrums in an attempt to get the attention they are used to.

The extinction burst is a natural and expected part of the process of behavior change, and it is important for parents and caregivers to understand it in order to effectively implement ABA therapy.

Why Does An Extinction Burst Occur?

An extinction burst occurs because the individual is trying to get the reinforcement they are used to receiving.

When the reinforcement is no longer provided, the individual may initially increase the behavior in an attempt to get the reinforcement. However, if the reinforcement is consistently withheld, the behavior will eventually decrease.

How To Manage An Extinction Burst?

Managing an extinction burst requires consistency and patience. It is important to continue to withhold reinforcement for the behavior, even if it initially increases.

It is also important to provide reinforcement for alternative behaviors that are more appropriate. For example, if a child is throwing tantrums for attention, providing attention for appropriate behaviors such as asking for help or using appropriate language can help to decrease the tantrums over time.

It is also important to have a plan in place for managing challenging behaviors during an extinction burst. This may involve providing a safe space for the individual to calm down, or using a calming technique such as deep breathing or mindfulness.

Are Extinction Bursts Necessary?

While extinction bursts may seem counterproductive or frustrating, they are actually an important part of the behavior change process.

Extinction bursts indicate that the individual is learning that their previous behavior no longer results in reinforcement, and they are trying new behaviors to get what they want. This experimentation is a natural part of the learning process and can lead to more adaptive behaviors over time.

It's important to remember that while extinction bursts can be challenging in the short term, they ultimately lead to long-term improvements in behavior. By consistently withholding reinforcement for undesirable behaviors and providing reinforcement for appropriate alternatives, individuals can learn new skills and behaviors that will benefit them throughout their lives.

How Long Do Extinction Bursts Last?

The duration of an extinction burst will vary depending on the individual and the behavior in question. In some cases, the extinction burst may only last a few minutes, while in other cases it may last for several days or even weeks.

It is important to remain consistent with the withholding of reinforcement during this time, as giving in to the behavior can undo any progress that has been made.

In general, however, an extinction burst will eventually subside as the individual learns that their previous behavior no longer results in reinforcement.

Conclusion

Extinction bursts are a natural and expected part of the process of behavior change in ABA therapy.

They occur when reinforcement for a behavior is withheld, and the individual initially increases the behavior in an attempt to get the reinforcement. However, with consistency and patience, the behavior will eventually decrease.

It is important for parents and caregivers to understand extinction bursts and have a plan in place for managing them in order to effectively implement ABA therapy.