Consequence Interventions

What are Consequence Interventions?

Consequence interventions are used to minimize reinforcement for problem behavior and increase reinforcement for desirable behavior. They also include redirecting the student towards alternative responses, and providing crisis prevention strategies to ensure the safety of the student and others. Before functional behavioral assessment strategies were used, most behavior interventions focused mainly on consequences by punishing problem behavior and reinforcing positive behavior. Understanding the function that maintains a problem behavior allows the student and his or her team develop positive strategies that will prevent problem behavior, increase quality of life, and build positive relationships.

The use of punishment as a consequence for problem behavior has also decreased. Research studies indicate that an over-reliance on punishment without positive interventions can lead to increases in problem behavior. Understanding why a student is engaging in problem behavior can help you implement interventions that modify events that trigger problem behavior and teach new replacement skills that achieve the same outcome.

How are consequence interventions related to teaching new skills?

Consequence interventions are often used to make sure that problem behavior is no longer effective or efficient. The goal of a many positive behavior support interventions is to teach the student a new social or communication skill that will result in the same outcome as the problem behavior. However, the student will choose to engage in a behavior that is most efficient. Consequence interventions can increase the effectiveness of teaching social and communication skills by minimizing reinforcement for problem behavior and increasing reinforcement for a new replacement behavior.

What are some examples of consequence interventions?

Extinction. When a behavior that has a history of being reinforced no longer results in reinforcement, the behavior will decrease. A student who is used to being told to go to the office may find leaving class reinforcing and therefore his problem behavior increases. If the teacher no longer sends the student to the office when he engages in problem behavior, the problem behavior is no longer being reinforced. Extinction interventions have been used for different types of problem behaviors including disruptive behaviors, noncompliance, aggression, and self-injury.

A common type of extinction is to ignore problem behavior when it occurs. Many people assume that they must respond to the occurrence of problem behavior. They believe that the corrective statements they deliver will teach the student that what she is doing is wrong. If the student’s problem behavior increases, however, it is possible that the corrective statements that are being delivered are not having any impact or may even be triggering problem behavior. Some students have learned over time that any attention is better than no attention at all. Other students may be reinforced by the effect that they have on the teacher's behavior, especially if the teacher tends to become visibly upset. Ignoring problem behavior sends the message that you are giving as little value as possible to the act itself.

When extinction is implemented, a student’s problem behavior may increase in frequency and intensity before decreasing. This temporary increase in responding is referred to as an extinction burst. A child that has been whining and crying in class to escape from a nonpreferred task may begin screaming loudly before his problem behaviors begin to decrease. Pairing extinction with interventions that teach positive communication and social skills to replace the problem behavior is an excellent strategy since it provides the student with access to the reinforcer.

Reinforcement. It is common to see a variety of reinforcement programs using stickers or other items that are given to students for engaging in appropriate behavior. Unfortunately, it is also common to see these programs having no effect on student behavior. It can be difficult to use reinforcement programs that are designed for a whole class since each student tends to have diverse preferences and the frequency of reinforcement often needs to be individualized. Sometimes it is necessary to tailor reinforcement to each student's needs and take advantage of naturally occurring opportunities to provide reinforcement.

Consequence interventions should be designed in combination with interventions for teaching specific social and communication skills that address the function maintaining a problem behavior. Reinforcement should be given immediately after the desired behavior you wish to increase. An effective way to start implementing these interventions is to identify problematic routines to teach these replacement behaviors. As the student begins to use these new social and communication skills, additional routines and settings are added.

Noncontingent Reinforcement. Another consequence intervention is to deliver the same reinforcers maintaining a student’s problem behavior throughout the day regardless of what she is doing, as long as no problem behaviors occur. This is referred to as noncontingent reinforcement. Noncontingent reinforcement strategies deliver the same reinforcers that are maintaining problem behavior to students on a time-based schedule. Extinction procedures such as ignoring a problem behavior can be implemented at the same time as noncontingent reinforcement. For instance, a student will be less likely to engage in problem behavior in order to obtain a desired activity when she has access to it on a regular basis anyway. Although nonontingent reinforcement schedules can be difficult to implement for a busy teacher, the idea of delivering the reinforcers a student seeks noncontingently is a great strategy for building a positive environment.

Building a Positive Climate. Creating a reinforcing environment involves taking the opportunity to engage in positive interactions with students without focusing exclusively on appropriate behavior or correct responses. A frequently recommended rule is to provide four positive interactions or statements for every one correction or request that you deliver to a student.

Redirection. Redirection simply means that you are guiding the student toward a positive interaction. The purpose of redirection is to create opportunities to give the student positive feedback for appropriate behavior. Examples of redirection include handing a book to a student, offering assistance or guiding the student’s attention to an alternative activity. Redirection is often misused because the person using it has not considered the function maintaining a student’s problem behavior or has very high expectations for the student’s behavior. For instance, a teacher may try to redirect a student using a demand or request to engage in an activity. If the student is engaging in problem behavior to escape demands, his behavior will become worse. In addition, it is common to hear that a student cannot be redirected because the behavior occurs all of the time. Teachers who use redirection effectively often observe small opportunities to reinforce a student by temporarily decreasing expectations. A teacher may redirect a student who is off task by pointing to a correct answer on an in-class assignment, praising the student for this success and asking how the unanswered question is related to new items on the paper.

What types of strategies are used to manage crises?

If you intervene earlier in the sequence of problem behaviors, you can implement a number of positive strategies. Good crisis management plans actually start with preventative strategies based on the functional behavioral assessment. Understanding the function maintaining problem behavior allows you to intervene in a number of different ways using setting event interventions, removing or modifying antecedent events, and prompting social and communication skills.

Carr and his colleagues describe five categories of procedures for managing crises. These categories include: 1) ignoring lower level problem behavior, 2) using redirection to engage the student in appropriate behavior, 3) removing other students and staff from harm, 4) protecting the student or others from physical injury, and 5) restraining the student.

Students often engage in problem behaviors that are less intense before more serious problem behavior occurs. Understanding the escalating sequence of behaviors allows you to intervene before problem behaviors escalate into a crisis. The earlier intervention occurs within the escalation sequence, the easier it will be to avoid severe problem behavior. Once a student begins engaging in really intense problem behavior high levels of emotional or physiological arousal redirection is more difficult. A student who is in an emotional state is less likely to be able respond to verbal interaction. As a result, when a student is at the peak of an escalating sequence of behaviors, interventions are focused on safety until redirection is possible again.