My Behavior Change Project, the short version…

My project: A intervention plan based on Piazza et al’s An Evaluation of the Effects of Matched Stimuli on Behaviors Maintained by Automatic Reinforcement (Piazza et al, 2000), Shore et al’s An Analysis of Reinforcer Substitutability Using Object Manipulation and Self-injury as competing responses (1997), and Groskreutz et al’s Response Competition and Stimulus Preference in the Treatment of Automatically Reinforced Behavior: A Comparison (2011).

Experimental question: What is the effect of substituting object manipulation for self-injury on a student with the comorbid special education eligibilities of emotional disturbance and mental retardation?

My shortened conclusion: Basically I came to similar conclusions. We were able to reduce self-injurious behavior (skin picking) of a student by providing the student a squeezable toy (that provided tactile, visual, and auditory stimuli) as freely available as the reinforcement schedule for self-injury. However long term maintenance of the behavior may only last as long as the item is preferred. Another factor to consider is accounting for all possible sensory-matched consequences. Although the object matched many dimensions of the reinforcing effects of self-injury, such as tactile (resistant pressure), visual (seeing blood), and auditory (squishing sound), it did not match them all (specifically pain). Introducing a stimulus that induces pain to would violate moral and ethical standards.

Therefore intervention could continue providing an object that matches many suspected sensory stimuli which can be manipulated as an alternative to self-injury. However, the intervention must also include moral and ethical methods for reducing pain or minimizing the reinforcing effects of pain on self-injury. Additionally, a procedure to provide differential reinforcement for behaviors that are incompatible (DRI) with the self-injury would enhance intervention plan.

Implications: This project took place in a school setting. Putting such an intervention in place although not labor intensive, was time intensive in the beginning. It required the very controlled environment of a self-contained special education classroom. This was done in order to minimize extraneous variables that can confound the intervention variable. Although this intervention appears complicated, it was actually very simple. In essence, if self-injurious behavior is suspected to be reinforced by automatic reinforcement, try to provide alternative activities that are both incompatible with and provide as much of the same sensory stimulation as the self-injurious behavior.