A New Tool For Your Toolbox: Omission Training

When parents and professionals want to reduce a problem behavior, they often choose a replacement behavior as part of the behavior plan. A replacement behavior allows the child to meet his or her needs using an appropriate behavior instead of the problem behavior. For example, if a child is crying because she wants a break, her instructor might teach her to ask nicely for a break as a replacement behavior for crying.

Most people think of replacement behavior as being a request, as described above, or an alternative behavior, such as clapping instead of hand flapping. There are other types of replacement behaviors, however. A replacement behavior is simply something that gains the child access to what he or she desires (in other words, attention, an activity or item, avoiding something unpleasant, or sensory input that feels good).

One type of replacement behavior is called Omission Training (professionals call this Differential Reinforcement of Other Behavior, or “DRO”). Simply put, Omission Training is when a child is taught not to engage in a problem behavior for a period of time. If the child does not demonstrate the problem behavior, the child is granted access to what he or she wants. For example:

• Ben hums during teacher instruction which disrupts the students next to him. He hums because he likes the sound. Ben is taught not to hum for periods of work time, after which he is given free time to hum his favorite songs.
• Julia whines the entire time she is in the grocery store with her parents. She whines as a way to get her favorite foods. Julia is taught not to whine for periods of time while grocery shopping, after which she is allowed to request two preferred foods to purchase.  

Gradually, children learn not to engage in problem behavior for longer periods of time in order to access what they desire. If you want to give Omission Training a try, the steps are detailed below:

1. Observe the child to get an idea of how often he or she typically engages in the behavior. Try to estimate how long the child goes between occurrences of the behavior.

2. Choose a period of time that is slightly shorter than the amount of time the child currently goes between problem behaviors. For example, if the child hits about once every 15 minutes, choose 12 minutes for your initial time period. This will maximize success!

3. Make sure you know what the child wants (in other words, what the problem behavior gets the child: items, activities, attention, breaks, or sensory input). It’s critical that the child receives the same things he or she desires for not engaging in the problem behavior!

4. You are now ready to start. Set the timer for the period of time you chose. If the timer beeps and the child has not engaged in the problem behavior, provide the child with what she wants.

5. If the child engages in the problem behavior before the timer beeps, do not allow the child access to what she wants. In fact, block access to what she wants if possible. Reset the timer, and try again. (Shorten the time interval if the child has not been successful over several attempts.)

6. When the child has 5 to 7 successful intervals in a row, you can increase the length of the time interval slightly. Continue until you have reached a reasonable length of time.

By using Omission Training, you will be teaching the child not to use the problem behavior over gradually longer periods of time. And the best part is that the child will still be getting exactly what she wants!

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