What Is Extinction in ABA Therapy?

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One way ABA therapy helps people with autism is by extinction. This means that over time, the therapist would interrupt a behavior and then reward something else when they did it. But some experts are now questioning whether this practice can really help someone recover from their condition.

Extinction is a technique used in ABA therapy. It is the process of stopping reinforcement for an undesired behavior, and it can be done with or without prompting. Extinction is also known as “extinguishing” since the behavior ceases to exist once it has been extinguished.


Any choice that eliminates reward of a certain behavior is referred to as Extinction.

This may begin with identifying actions that the parent, teacher, or therapist participates in that unintentionally promote maladaptive behaviors in the child with autism in applied behavior analysis (ABA) treatment. If a parent screams at a kid for engaging in a repeated, disruptive conduct, this attention may create stress, but it may also unintentionally encourage the repetitive behavior, causing the child to participate in it more often.

An ABA therapist may also devise a positive Reinforcement Extinction strategy. For learning an adapted behavior, the kid with autism will be immediately rewarded. The therapist will gradually eliminate the incentive as they show that this behavior is maintained. Extinction is most effective when combined with positive Reinforcement.

What Is ABA Therapy All About?

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy is an evidence-based treatment that use behavioral psychology to identify and treat maladaptive behaviors. The therapist then devises a treatment plan with the goal of teaching adaptive behaviors, terminating maladaptive habits, and maintaining good behavioral changes outside of therapy sessions.

Autism is a developmental disease characterized by behaviors related to social skills, communication, personal interests, attention span, and certain physical abilities. ABA therapy is the most common treatment for autism.

Autism is a spectrum illness, which means that some individuals may not show any symptoms other than a few minor difficulties, such as comprehending sarcasm. Others may be unable to communicate vocally due to substantial physical and mental limitations. Some persons with autism have trouble walking or standing, and they may be unable to concentrate on things other than their primary obsessions.

ABA-trained behavior therapists employ a variety of strategies to assist individuals with autism control their symptoms. They develop a treatment plan and track the outcomes of applying it so that they can assess if the client is progressing or suffering based on objective metrics. When a client with autism has difficulty reducing maladaptive behaviors and learning adaptive behaviors, the ABA therapist will change their approach since a new way of skill development may be more effective.

In Behavioral therapy, how is Extinction used?

ABA treatment is based on ideas developed by B.F. Skinner in the 1950s and is a psychological approach to behavior analysis. These are Skinner’s core behavioral principles:

  • Reinforcement

  • Punishment

  • Extinction

  • Controlling stimuli

  • Motivation

Skinner outlined not just how a single stimulus may elicit a certain behavioral response in an organism, but also how reactions to the organism’s behavior can impact whether the behavior is repeated or not, using these fundamental concepts. His experiments with rats and pigeons, for example, revealed that penalties deterred particular behaviors while incentives encouraged them. He also showed that certain actions that were rewarded with positive reinforcement would persist even when the incentive was no longer there or only occurred occasionally.

Punishment is not utilized in ABA treatment for persons with autism, particularly children with autism, albeit the removal of a reward may be used to discourage maladaptive behaviors. Because any attention (even punishment) may sometimes work as a reinforcer of a behavior, extinction can be used to eliminate it.

In ABA treatment, the phrase extinction refers to no longer giving reward for any previously reinforced behavior. If a youngster with autism does anything disruptive, this might involve an angry response. It might involve gradually reducing incentives from a token economy that promotes a youngster to acquire good conduct, as long as the child can sustain that behavior.

The End of Extinction

ABA therapy treatment regimens often begin with incentives to facilitate learning of a desirable behavior while disregarding maladaptive habits. The therapist must follow an extinction strategy over time, in which incentives or reinforcers are gradually withdrawn.

Extinction may also include withholding or eliminating negative reinforcers, such as direct punishment for disruptive conduct, which is a practice nurtured by the therapist, teacher, or parent as a shift in their approach to the kid. Extinction refers to the removal of a certain stimulus that may assist decide whether or not a behavior will continue.

Clients in behavior treatment often experience an extinction burst. This is a typical psychological occurrence that happens when a maladaptive habit worsens before improving. Many individuals, whether or not they have autism, experience this when they try to improve their habits.

Someone aiming to lose weight, for example, may benefit from a diet and exercise regimen for many weeks. Then they have a candy bar craving, eat it, and feel bad about violating their diet. An extinction burst occurs when people give up their diet and exercise program in frustration or despair.

Learning new behaviors takes time, and when an extinction burst occurs, it may be accompanied by hostility and emotional emotions. It’s critical to keep implementing the curriculum, particularly for ABA therapists dealing with autistic children. Otherwise, they support the resumption of the maladaptive behavior. Positive reinforcement combined with extinction is more effective than extinction alone in supporting behavioral change.

Differential Reinforcement with Extinction and Rewards

Differential reinforcement, a method for minimizing troublesome or demanding behavior, may include extinction. Positive reinforcement for good or adaptive behaviors is combined with extinction of some typical or customary reactions to a bad or maladaptive behavior in this process. The objective is to eradicate the troublesome behavior by eliminating negative reinforcement.

The following are some examples of differential reinforcement applications:

  • Zero-rate differential reinforcement (DRO). Providing a reward, or reinforcer, for zero repetitions of a hard behavior is part of this process. If a kid sucks their thumb, for example, their ABA therapist may reward them with 10 minutes of playing with a favorite toy if they can go 10 minutes without sucking their thumb.

  • Incompatible conduct is reinforced differently (DRI). The ABA therapist may choose to reward a behavior that makes it difficult to conduct the problematic behavior otherwise. For example, if a youngster yells with delight during a discussion, the therapist will praise them for speaking at a regular volume rather than shouting. Positive conduct is rewarded since the youngster cannot scream during conversation if they are speaking at an adequate voice level.

  • Alternative conduct is reinforced differently (DRA). When the youngster does a different activity than the challenging behavior, rewards or reinforcers may be offered. If a youngster suffers with self-injurious behaviors such as beating their head with their fist, the therapist may praise the child for coloring in a coloring book instead of engaging in the harmful activity.

Extinction bursts may be avoided by using positive reward for behavioral adjustments. Researchers looked at 42 cases of extinction using intervention tactics including differential reinforcement and discovered that adding positive reinforcement to the mix decreased extinction bursts. When positive operations were paired with extinction processes, there were 15% fewer incidences of extinction bursts.

In ABA Therapy, the concept of extinction is crucial.

Extinction may refer to a variety of ABA treatment techniques, ranging from gradually diminishing the frequency of a reward so that the child learns to self-motivate the behavior to terminating a practice that unintentionally promotes a maladaptive habit.

Extinction as part of a therapy strategy for a kid with autism helps the child learn better and reduces stress, which may contribute to the reemergence of problematic behaviors. During ABA treatment, the procedure is significant as one of various ways.

Make sure you’re on board with your interactions with your kid if your child’s ABA therapist uses extinction in sessions. You may use some of the same techniques that your child’s therapist use to encourage good behaviors and discourage bad ones. The effects of ABA treatment take hold quicker when everyone is on the same page.


Autism Spectrum Disorders Signs and Symptoms (Autumn of 2019). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a U.S. government agency that (CDC).

ABA stands for Applied Behavior Analysis (2011). The American Dental Association’s Journal (JADA).

Behavior Reduction is a study topic for Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) (Part Two of Two). (2019, January) Central Psychiatry.

Effects of Applied Behavior Analysis on Autistic People (May 2016). Governor’s Commission on Disability, State of New Mexico

Treatment Implications Based on the Functional Assessment, Chapter Three Functional Assessment Instruction

In Psychology, Extinction Is Defined. (Apr. 2019). Very Good Health

Avoid extinction (2017). Behavior Technicians Working With Autistic People: A Training Manual

Task as Reinforcer: A Reactive Alternative to Traditional Extinction Avoidance Techniques (February 2017). International Association for Behavior Analysis.

Extinction Procedures for Problem Behavior Based on Function The American Psychological Association is a professional association of psychologists.

What Is an Extinction Burst, and How Does It Happen? (2019, January) College of Rollins.

The Effects of the Wait Out Procedure on Noncompliance as an Alternative to Extinction. (Summer 2018). University of James Madison

Extinction is a process in ABA therapy. It is the opposite of reinforcement and it can be used to teach children how to avoid doing an undesirable behavior. Reference: extinction aba quizlet.

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