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Using Extinction for Attention Seeking Problem Behaviors

Updated: May 31, 2021

How and when should problem behaviors be ignored? It is acceptable to use ignoring across problem behaviors? In this article, we will discuss how and when it is acceptable to use planned ignoring in response to problem behavior emitted by a learner.

Extinction is the applied behavior analytic (ABA) term used to define the act of planned ignoring. Extinction/planned ignoring is used to ignore the problem behavior of a learner, without ignoring the learner. For example, a learner might be screaming during the task of cleaning up his or her bedroom. In this example, the adult would use planned ignoring to ignore the screaming and praise the cleaning of the room. By doing so, we are providing positive reinforcement by offering praise (i.e. "great job cleaning your room!") while ignoring the screaming that is occurring simultaneously.

Extinction may not be the best fit for attention seeking behaviors that are harmful to the learner or those around him/her. If safety is a concern, carry out any necessary tasks to keep the learner and/or those around him/her safe. This might include providing verbal prompts, moving the learner to a safer environment, distancing oneself from the learner, etc.

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