RBT Exam Study Guide Unit D: Behavior Reduction

This page of our free RBT Exam Study Guide covers behavior reduction. This is based on Section D of the RBT Task List, which includes the following tasks related to behavior reduction:

  • Identify essential components of a written behavior reduction plan
  • Describe common functions of behavior
  • Implement interventions based on modification of antecedents such as motivating operations and discriminative stimuli
  • Implement differential reinforcement procedures (e.g., DRA, DRO)
  • Implement extinction procedures
  • Implement crisis/emergency procedures according to protocol

Significance of behavior reduction in ABA: Many individuals attending ABA therapy exhibit behaviors that are harmful to themselves or others or interfere with their ability to function and learn. As we’ll discuss further in Unit D, all behavior is communication. There is always a reason for a behavior; therefore, there are ways to modify challenging behaviors to support learning and growth.

It is important to note that not all autistic children engage in interfering or “maladaptive” behaviors. You may have clients who do not have behavior reduction goals in place. It should also be noted that ABA can be used with many different populations, not solely children with developmental disabilities. The behavioral principles outlined in this module can be utilized with neurotypical individuals as well.

RBT Task D-1: Identify essential components of a written behavior reduction plan

Each client who has behavior reduction goals will have a written behavior reduction plan, also known as a behavior intervention plan (BIP). This plan is created by the BCBA and implemented by RBTs and others working with the learner. Behavior reduction goals are needed for clients who exhibit harmful behaviors or behaviors that interfere with their ability to learn or interact with others, e.g., aggression, self-injurious behaviors (SIB), property damage, spitting, or screaming. You may also hear these behaviors referred to as “target behaviors,” “maladaptive,” or “inappropriate.” 

The purpose of a behavior reduction plan is to thoroughly outline the strategies and interventions that all team members must follow to prevent and respond to interfering behaviors. Each learner’s plan is customized to their individual needs, so no two will be exactly alike.

A behavior reduction plan will include all of the following information:

  • The behaviors targeted for reduction. An operational definition will be included for each behavior you are targeting. This definition will specify exactly what the behavior looks like.
  • Who will implement the behavior reduction plan. Each person responsible for the plan should be included to ensure transparency. For example, if parents and caregivers will also be responsible for implementing the plan, it should clearly outline that and specify their role.
  • The behavior’s function. This is why the client engages in the behavior: What are they seeking? (See Task D-2)
  • Preventative strategies (also known as antecedent strategies or antecedent manipulations). These are the strategies you use before the learner can engage in a target behavior to reduce the likelihood that they will occur. 
  • Consequent strategies. These are the procedures you should take to respond to the target behavior when it does occur. For example, ignoring the behavior, prompting a mand, redirecting to another activity, removing a token, etc.
  • Crisis interventions. For any target behavior that may cause harm to the client or others, a crisis plan should be included in the behavior plan.

Tip: If your client engages in a new behavior or one that does not have a behavior reduction plan yet, record ABC data on it and notify your BCBA.

RBT Task D-2: Describe common functions of behavior

As mentioned above, every behavior has a cause. When engaging in any behavior, the individual is trying to meet a need, which we refer to in ABA as the functions of behavior. Research shows us there are four main categories of behavioral functions. By conducting functional behavior assessments (See Task B-3), behavior analysts can determine the function(s) of their client’s interfering behaviors.

Why is it important to know the function of a behavior? The function is a vital piece to the puzzle when developing a behavior reduction plan (See Task D-1). Understanding the function helps us identify what we can change in the learner’s environment to help them meet their needs without engaging in the target behavior. For example, if we know a child hits people to get their attention, we can create interventions that teach them other ways of gaining people’s attention.

The functions of behavior are:

  1. Automatic reinforcement: Engaging in a behavior because it feels good. Do you bite your nails? Tap your feet on the ground? Hum? These behaviors often fall under the function of automatic reinforcement.
  2. Escape or avoidance: Engaging in a behavior to escape or avoid an unpleasant situation. For example, whenever a student is presented with a boring or too easy task, they throw the materials to escape the task.
  3. Attention: Engaging in a behavior to get someone’s attention. A child might push or hit peers to get their attention, or scream as soon as their mother answers a phone call, as their attention is directed elsewhere.
  4. Access to tangibles: Engaging in a behavior to obtain access to some tangible item or activity. For example, a child cries because they want to play on the playground.

Remember, the functions of behavior apply to all behaviors, not just “maladaptive” ones. If you call a loved one to check in, you’re engaging in that behavior to seek their attention. If you get off the highway during rush hour because of a traffic jam, the function of your behavior is likely escape. Consider some of your own behaviors and think about what the functions might be.

RBT Task D-3: Implement interventions based on modification of antecedents such as motivating operations and discriminative stimuli

An antecedent is anything that occurs directly before a behavior of interest. We can intervene on behaviors by changing the way the environment is set up. In other words, we modify the antecedents.

Consider this real-world example: You want to lose weight, so you set a goal to eat healthier. Imagine you typically have numerous options for junk food in your home. It would be difficult to achieve your goal without modifying your environment by eliminating junk food. Therefore, you begin doing grocery pick-up instead of shopping in-store to avoid temptation, and you only order healthy foods and snacks. By only having healthy food in your home, you are more likely to achieve your goal of eating healthy. By doing this, you are modifying the antecedents to eating.

Some of the common antecedent modifications (or antecedent manipulations) you may use with your clients include:

  • Visual supports/schedules
  • High-probability request sequence (providing easy tasks before more challenging ones)
  • Priming (Talking about an upcoming event, laying out expectations, providing them with any important information they should know)
  • Offering choices
  • Non-contingent reinforcement
  • Timers

Motivating operations (MOs) temporarily increase or decrease the value of something (i.e., they increase or decrease the effectiveness of a stimulus as a reinforcer). Motivating operations are further broken down into two categories: establishing operations (EOs) and abolishing operations (AOs).

Establishing operations increase the effectiveness of a reinforcer, while abolishing operations decrease the effectiveness of a reinforcer.

EOs and AOs can be thought of as a continuum of deprivation to satiation. If you haven’t had something you really enjoy in a long time (in other words, you’re deprived of it), it’s more reinforcing when you finally get it. This deprivation is an establishing operation. For example, your client loves bubbles and is highly reinforced by them, but you ran out of bubbles last week. After a week of no bubbles, you bring a new bottle. Since the client was “deprived of” bubbles for a week, bubbles became even more reinforcing than usual. We can create deprivation in certain situations to make things more reinforcing, thus increasing target behaviors.

On the exact opposite end of the spectrum are abolishing operations. Have you ever overindulged on something to the point that you no longer want anything to do with it (at least temporarily)? That’s called satiation. This is how abolishing operations work. When someone is satiated on something, it becomes less reinforcing for them. For example, your client is very active and enjoys running and jumping. This is not inherently “maladaptive,” but when it’s time to focus and learn, they need to be able to pause these behaviors. Allowing them free access to run and jump for a period of time can help satiate them on this activity so they have a lower motivation to do so when it’s time to learn.

A discriminative stimulus (SD) is a stimulus that, when presented, lets a learner know that reinforcement is available. SDs are often thought of as the instruction or demand, but they can be any environmental cue, such as visual stimuli. For example, when you need to use the bathroom, a restroom sign indicates the availability of reinforcement and is, therefore, an SD. An SD has stimulus control over a particular behavior after a history of reinforcement when that stimulus was presented before the behavior.

RBT Task D-4: Implement differential reinforcement procedures (e.g., DRA, DRO)

Differential reinforcement is a common procedure used in ABA to modify behavior. There are a few types of differential reinforcement procedures, but let’s first review what differential reinforcement is.

Reinforcement is the process of adding (positive) or removing (negative) something following a target behavior, resulting in the behavior occurring more often moving forward. Extinction is the process of withholding (not providing) reinforcement when a particular behavior occurs, when that behavior was reinforced in the past (See task D-5). Combining these two procedures is differential reinforcement—Placing the target (inappropriate/maladaptive) behavior on extinction while reinforcing other specified behaviors.

The two most common differential reinforcement procedures include:

  1. Differential reinforcement of other behaviors (DRO):  Reinforcement is provided for all behaviors other than the target behavior (Remember, the target behavior is the one you’re aiming to reduce). In other words, when the learner engages in the target behavior, you do not provide reinforcement. However, they can receive reinforcement for engaging in any other behaviors.

    For example, imagine you implement a DRO for your client’s behavior of screaming. When the client screams, reinforcers are withheld. During times when he is doing anything else, you provide reinforcement. Typically, this occurs on an interval schedule, such as every X minutes, the client receives reinforcement for engaging in any behaviors other than the target one.
  2. Differential reinforcement of alternative behaviors (DRA): Reinforcement is provided for a specified alternative behavior while withholding reinforcement for the target behavior. In this case, you’re reinforcing specific behaviors that are more appropriate or adaptive for the learner. The alternative behavior should meet the same function for the learner (See Task D-2).

    For example, imagine a child hits her parents to get their attention. A DRA would consist of not providing attention when she hits but instead providing attention for appropriate attention-seeking behaviors, like saying, “Hey, mom, check this out!” “Wanna play with me,” or gently tapping them on their shoulder.

When using a differential reinforcement procedure, two things happen: One behavior increases (because it was reinforced) while another behavior decreases (because it was placed on extinction).

RBT Task D-5: Implement extinction procedures

While we discussed extinction in Task D-4, let’s delve a little deeper into what it is.

Extinction is a behavior reduction process that consists of withholding reinforcement for behaviors that were reinforced in the past. This is important to note because you cannot apply extinction with behaviors that have never been reinforced.

Think about dinosaurs. They were previously around but no longer are. Thus, they are extinct. Similarly, in ABA, behaviors that the learner once exhibited but no longer do are considered extinct. Behaviors become extinct when they no longer contact reinforcement, resulting in a gradual reduction until they are no longer displayed.

The type of extinction used depends on the function of the behavior—the behavior analyst would assess how the behavior was previously reinforced. Withholding that type of reinforcement is the key to extinction. For example, if a child screams at their mom to get a sucker, the function would be access to tangibles. Extinction for this would involve withholding reinforcement by not giving a sucker when the child screams.

Extinction is commonly misunderstood. Some people think that it’s a punishment procedure. However, extinction is neither punishment nor reinforcement. Another common misunderstanding is that extinction simply means you ignore the child. Attention extinction does consist of ignoring the behavior (not giving it attention). However, this is not the only way extinction is used. Also, attention extinction does not mean completely ignoring the child.

When extinction is first implemented, oftentimes, the individual begins engaging in the target behavior more often, longer, or at a higher intensity. This is known as an extinction burst. It is temporary before the behavior begins to decrease. Teaching and reinforcing a replacement behavior in addition to extinction can help reduce the likelihood and impact of an extinction burst.

RBT Task D-6: Implement crisis/emergency procedures according to protocol

A crisis plan outlines pertinent information and procedures to follow in emergency situations. Not every learner will have a crisis plan. However, if your client exhibits behaviors that could pose a danger to themselves or others, a crisis plan is necessary to keep everyone safe. For example, if your client elopes from their home, a crisis plan would outline strategies to take in the event that they escape (or attempt to escape) the home.

Crisis plans may be used for medical reasons as well. For example, if your learner has asthma or a seizure disorder, a crisis plan would outline the steps to take if they had a medical emergency during a therapy session. The most important thing to keep in mind is that crisis plans are individualized.

RBT Behavior Reduction Quiz

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