Punishment In Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Punishment In Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

– It’s worth seeing. I was just recently, I was at an initial home-based
consultation for a student that has really dangerous
self injurious behavior. It’s a 10 year old girl with autism, who hits herself in the
head, multiple topographies. After a period of direct observation, I was sitting down with her parents to discuss my initial
impressions of the case. I was talking to the parents about how I had noted in this
student’s school-base record that there was a long
history of failed treatment using reinforcement based techniques and that there had also
been several attempts to conduct functional assessments, all of which yielded ambiguous results. So I assured the parents that I would be replicating
many of these strategies, that I, too, would wanna conduct a rigorous functional assessment including a functional analysis and that I would be
conducting multiple iterations of treatment analysis in order to try and identify a
reinforcement based strategy that could reduce their
daughters self injury. Just for the record, was causing some pretty
serious bodily harm. This conversation was going fairly well, it was pretty casual until I felt the need to be upfront and transparent
with these parents and I brought up that
there was this long history of failed treatment. By the way, this particular student attended one of the
most well known schools for individuals with
autism, really top-notch. It’s likely that the treatment integrity, the attempts were pretty solid. I even brought up that this school had also tried some more
intrusive strategies already in the way of contingent use of a helmet to try and reduce this
child’s self injury. Then I said, if my treatment analysis using reinforcement based procedures fail to identify a strategy
that could be effective in reducing this behavior, I may be in a position to
recommend the exploration of more intrusive procedures in the way of a punishment procedure. At the sheer mention of
the word, punishment, this student’s mother became very upset and even began to cry. It wasn’t until I continued to explain what I meant by punishment that she calmed down pretty quickly and actually got a really
confused look on her face. She looked at her husband,
who then looked at me and said, aw, we been
doing that stuff for years. He explained to me that they regularly screamed at their daughter
to try and get her to stop hitting herself. They regularly put her in a room alone to try and get her to
stop hitting herself. They had even tried pulling
their daughters hair, contingent upon head hitting. And again, we’re talking about
really challenging behavior that was causing bodily harm. It occurred to me then, that this was a perfect illustration of a current state of understanding surrounding the clinical
use of punishment. There’s such hysteria and controversy surrounding punishment at this point that you can’t even bring
it up in conversation without offending someone or causing a really intense avoidance response. I wanna be clear that I
don’t think this reaction is exclusive to parents, right? Because I’ve met a lot of clinicians and even Behavior Analysts that have this same kind of
response and a lot of times, it appears as though people
are having this response without even being well informed about what punishment actually is. And I think there are a
number of reasons for that and I hope to explore it. I wanna continue by examining
the nature of punishment. So reinforcement and punishment have a certain symmetry,
it’s not a perfect symmetry, but they’re kind of two
sides of the same coin. And what I mean by that, is reinforcement and punishment are forces that exist in our natural environment without anyone planning for them. They exist, these are the forces that result in us learning
different responses. I think that we’re more
inclined to recognize the existence of natural
contingencies of reinforcement because reinforcement has a lot more uses in clinical studies. It’s much less intrusive. You can use reinforcement in isolation and what we’re doing in clinical settings is actually trying to approximate the natural contingencies of reinforcement by presenting our learners with contrived and explicit version of them, in the hopes of eventually
fading them out. So our learners come under the control of their natural environment. We think about natural contingencies
of reinforcement a lot, but I don’t think that
we stop to recognize that we all encounter
countless contingencies of punishment in our environment as well. How many of you have ever
turned the wrong knob in the shower and been
blasted with cold water? I have, that’s happened. I was less likely to engage in
that response in the future. Maybe some of you have eaten some food that was a little too spicy. We’re a little too adventurous, right? I mean, touched a hot stove, right? These are all very simple crude examples. They are actually very
complex contingencies of both, reinforcement and punishment that exist in our natural environment. So this is the common conception, right? Punishment equals bad,
reinforcement equals good. What I hope to demonstrate, when I was talking the previous slide, that this is a simplistic view. This often comes from
peoples understanding and experience of the use of
punishment in clinical studies, but these things exist in
our natural environment. Punishment and reinforcement
are not inherently bad or good. So just going back to
those first questions that I asked you, the initial survey. I think all of you answered,
yes, that it’s ethical to use positive reinforcement to influence a persons behavior. Can you think of a situation
where it wouldn’t be? Doesn’t both, desirable
and undesirable behavior fall into the control of
positive reinforcement? But yet, all of you were
quick to raise your hand because this is the common conception. It’s not that you have some deficit. We just don’t think about it, right? The general trend is to
be quiet about punishment and not think about it deeply. But punishment bad, reinforcement good is a really simplistic view, right? I just wanna take the moment
to say on kind of the point that I’m not here advocating punishment. Punishment in clinical settings represents a highly
intrusive treatment practice and should only be undertaken with caution by people who know what they’re doing. There are a whole hosts of potential undesirable
side effects that can result from the use of punishment
in clinical settings and those things include,
and these are spelled out in your handout, but things like both, respondent and operant aggression, right? Punishment, the implementation
of punishment itself can model problem behavior. The implementation of punishment can actually represent a contingency of negative reinforcement for the person delivering the punishment,
which can ultimately result in a higher likelihood of abuse. And one of the biggest concerns that people often report
regarding punishment, the use of punishment in clinical studies is its transient effect,
so that it doesn’t have long lasting effects. On the idea of symmetry, so the emphasis when we’re talking about
punishment is almost always placed on the potential
undesirable outcomes. What about reinforcement? Aren’t there potential
undesirable outcomes that can result from reinforcement? Do any of you have learners
who become so dependent on the explicit systems of reinforcement that you’ve put in place
in your classrooms? That then they can’t perform
that same skill or response under natural contingency
of reinforcement? In the environment where they should be doing that behavior in the first place? I have. That happens to me all the time. I have to try and trouble
shoot and plan for that. What about over consumption
resulting from reinforcement? How many of you have learners that are overweight or obese? What about addiction problems, gambling? What about the transient
nature of reinforcement? This is something that, I don’t know, maybe I don’t have a clear
understanding of this, but it seems like a response that has been previously reinforced that ceases to encounter reinforcement is likely to, the
likelihood of that response is gradually reduced. That’s extinction, isn’t it? So doesn’t reinforcement also
have that transient effect? So again, not to be a proponent
of one side or the other, but to encourage some
critical thinking about.

9 thoughts on “Punishment In Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

  1. Great examples Chris ! I think any time a punishment procedure is put in place it must be monitored closely so it is being implemented appropriately.

  2. Punishment behaviors, I have tried utilizing punishment as the last resort but when it is appropriate to implement, it is carefully monitored. Please bear with me this is a long post. In my previous employment position, I used to work as an ABA therapist for a Multiple Disabilities classroom in an elementary school. Every day during math class, I had a student who would throw a tantrum (cry, scream and throw self to ground) and engage in property destruction behaviors (swipe things off desk, throw supplies at others etc). This behavior would occur right when independent math work started to when it was time to transition to lunch/ recess. The teacher and assistants have tried everything from modification of work (instead of 10 problems student does 5) to consoling the student and allowing for escape, in the end every day the student worked with the teacher every day- during independent work which was stressful for teacher since she needed to see other student progress. We collected ABC data and have found the function of the behavior was escape and attention ONLY from the classroom teacher (student loved when teacher would work with them). We developed a punishment treatment in which there was planned ignoring from the teacher, and loosing access to recess if student did not complete work (Recess was so important to this student). Treatment: So the student had a worksheet that had 5 problems that needed to be completed before lunch/ recess and to gain access from the teacher. In the first week the student had to complete one by themselves and 4 with the teacher. The student was not allowed to get access from the teacher until question was done and once done student was allowed to work with the teacher. The first couple of times were very hard and a lot of planned ignoring which the student DID NOT like. There was a burst in behavior and then after day 5 student was able to complete the one problem and gained access to everything. After mastering one it was bumped to 2 and so forth. In 3 months student was able to complete 10 math problems independently then was able to gain access to the teacher 3 minutes before lunch and recess.

  3. Yep, the word punishment itself has been paired with the word abuse so much it is culturally synonymous. Used properly, however, It can be liberating.

  4. "This link shows the worst forms of capital punishment that are totally unacceptable"

    Do you mean corporal punishment?

  5. Punishment is a natural consequence that we all encounter on a daily basis. I love how Dr. Manente opens up about the misconceptions that punishment is not abuse but any consequence that is implemented to decrease the future occurrence of that specific behavior being punished. I use punishment with daughter on her token board, if she throws a tantrum, she has a response cost and loses a token. Punishment is not a bad thing although we do need to carefully monitor it when implementing it and training others. Thank you for making this great content available.

  6. When Dr. Manente talked about the misconception of “Reinforcement good , Punishment Bad” it actually made me think in a way I never had before. You never think of how sometimes reinforcement can actually cause more harm than good.

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