A child and a therapist during a play session.

What is Compassion-Based Care and Kind Extinction in ABA Therapy

In the realm of applied behavior analysis (ABA), the concept of compassion-based care holds immense significance, especially for Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) and parents of special needs children. This article will discuss the importance of implementing a compassion-based approach in ABA therapy.

Understanding Compassion-Based Care

Compassion-based care is a holistic approach that emphasizes empathy, understanding, and kindness in providing support and intervention for individuals with special needs. Unlike traditional behavior-focused methodologies, compassion-based care recognizes the importance of emotional well-being alongside behavioral progress.

Greg Hanley is a prominent figure in ABA therapy. He is known for his expertise in functional behavior assessments and function-based interventions, as well as his advocacy for compassionate and empathetic approaches within the field. According to Hanley, the key concepts on compassion-based care in relation to ABA therapy are the following:

Empathy as a Foundation

  • RBTs and parents are encouraged to cultivate empathy, putting themselves in the shoes of individuals with special needs. Understanding their unique challenges fosters a deeper connection and promotes a more compassionate approach.

Individualized Support Plans

  • Tailoring interventions based on the specific needs, strengths, and preferences of each individual is central to compassion-based care. This approach recognizes the diversity within the special needs community and ensures a personalized and effective support system.

Promotion of Well-being 

  • The goal of a compassion-based approach in ABA therapy is not just to address specific behavioral targets but to promoting overall well-being and quality of life of children with special needs.

Communication and Cultural Sensitivity

  • Communication with clients and caregivers should be respectful, non-judgmental, and collaborative to promote a positive therapeutic relationship. Recognizing and respecting cultural differences is essential in providing effective and compassionate care to diverse populations.

The Challenge of Extinction in ABA

Extinction is a well-established procedure in ABA that involves withholding reinforcement for a previously reinforced behavior. In the case of traditional operant extinction, the reinforcer maintaining the behavior is removed or withheld when the behavior occurs, leading to a decrease in the frequency of that behavior over time. 

However, a major challenge of operant extinction is that it may lead to an initial increase in the frequency of the behavior before it decreases. While operant extinction is supported by evidence for its effectiveness, it is often less preferred by learners, caregivers, and staff implementing it due to its perceived coldness and potential negative emotional responses.

What is Kind Extinction?

Kind extinction represents a procedural modification of traditional extinction techniques within applied behavior analysis (ABA). It integrates genuine positive regard and validation alongside conventional extinction methods to reduce interfering behavior. The approach aims to maintain a compassionate and empathetic stance toward individuals, recognizing their emotional needs and fostering positive relationships.

A study conducted by Tarbox and others (2003) revealed that the use of kind extinction resulted in a significant decrease in the interfering behavior across all participants, accompanied by improvements in replacement behaviors. Moreover, the procedure was rated as acceptable by caregivers and staff, suggesting its social validity. Participants expressed a preference for kind extinction over traditional extinction, indicating its potential for greater social acceptability.

Examples of kind extinction involve integrating genuine positive regard and validation alongside conventional behavior modification techniques to reduce interfering behavior. Here are some examples:

  • Child’s Tantrum: In a scenario where a child throws tantrums to seek attention, a kind extinction approach would involve ignoring the tantrum behavior while providing attention and validation for appropriate communication or calm behavior. Instead of reinforcing the tantrum with attention, caregivers or therapists actively reinforce the child’s attempts to communicate effectively or use coping strategies. Example of a dialogue in this scenario:

    Therapist: “I see you’re upset, Emily. It’s okay to feel that way.”

    Emily: “I want the toy now!”

    Therapist (using kind extinction): “I understand you really want the toy, but it’s not time to play with it yet. Let’s take some deep breaths together, and when you’re ready, we can find something else fun to do.”

  • Protest Behavior: Suppose a child engages in protest behavior, such as refusing to comply with instructions during therapy sessions. A kind extinction approach would entail acknowledging the child’s feelings and providing validation for their frustration, while also gently encouraging them to engage in the desired activity. By reinforcing cooperative behavior with positive attention and validation, the focus remains on building a supportive and understanding environment. Example of a dialogue in this scenario:

    Therapist: “Jason, it’s time to clean up your art supplies.”

    Jason: “I don’t want to clean up! I want to keep painting!”

    Therapist (using kind extinction): “I know you’re enjoying painting, Jason. It’s important to clean up so we can keep our art supplies organized for next time. I’ll help you put everything away, and then we can talk about what you want to paint next.”

  • Noncompliance in Classroom Settings: In a classroom setting, if a student exhibits noncompliant behavior by refusing to participate in a group activity, a kind extinction approach would involve empathizing with the student’s feelings and providing encouragement and support to engage in the activity. Rather than reinforcing the noncompliant behavior with attention or negative consequences, the focus shifts towards reinforcing cooperative behavior and fostering a positive learning environment. Example of a dialogue in this scenario:

    Teacher: “Sarah, please come to the front of the class and share your presentation.”

    Sarah: “No, I don’t want to!”

    Teacher (using kind extinction): “I understand you might feel nervous, Sarah. Sharing your presentation can be a little scary, but I believe in you. When you’re ready, I’ll be right here to support you.”

  • Self-Injurious Behavior: For individuals displaying self-injurious behavior, such as hitting oneself when frustrated or overwhelmed, a kind extinction approach may involve implementing safety measures to prevent harm while simultaneously providing comfort and validation. Instead of reinforcing the self-injurious behavior with attention or escape from tasks, caregivers or therapists offer emotional support and encouragement to use alternative coping strategies.

    Therapist: “John, please stop hitting yourself.”

    John: (Continues to hit himself)

    Therapist (using kind extinction): “John, I see you’re feeling upset. Hitting yourself isn’t safe. Let’s find a different way to express how you’re feeling. Can you show me how you’re feeling with your words or draw a picture?”

In each of these examples, the key principle of kind extinction is to address interfering behavior with empathy and validation while promoting positive alternatives. By integrating kindness and compassion into behavior modification strategies, individuals are supported in developing adaptive behaviors and emotional regulation skills while maintaining their dignity and well-being.

How are Kind Extinction and Compassion-Based Care Related?

The goal of kind extinction is to reduce interfering behaviors while maintaining a compassionate and empathetic approach toward individuals. This is in line with the broader scope of compassion-based care that prioritizes empathy, understanding, and kindness in all aspects of the intervention. 

In essence, both kind extinction and compassion-based care recognize the importance of treating individuals with understanding and empathy while addressing behavioral challenges. They aim to create a supportive and nurturing environment that acknowledges the emotional experiences of individuals and promotes positive relationships between caregivers, practitioners, and those receiving treatment.

Implementing a compassion-based approach in ABA therapy will help is important in nurturing environment that fosters growth, happiness, and a sense of belonging for special needs children in Jersey City, NJ. That is why we at Ujala Life offer a naturalistic approach to ABA. Our therapy programs are tailored to your children’s unique cultural and developmental needs while providing a nurturing environment for them to thrive.

Contact us today for more information.


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