Friday, October 12, 2007

Behavioral Progression Paradox

It has been a while since I have done a behavior analytic post. So, below I will dabble with a concept that really deserves much more than a brief blog entry. I hope that readers will find it at least mildly interesting.

I have previously written about a well known paradox in behavior science. That whenever a reinforcement contingency occurs, a shadow contingency of aversive control is simultaneously established. This theory implies that there can be no purely positive interventions or education.

And this theory is broader than just ABA or some other application of behavior analysis. Anytime a consequence is given (whether appreciated or not) and this consequence affects the rate or likelihood of a behavior, then the above paradox is put into play. There doesn’t have to be behavior analysts and gaggle of therapist, or even someone who knows the first thing about behavior analysis; there just has to be a consequence.

But there is another related paradox, that I wish to discuss. This is what I would call the “progression paradox”.

As any child, including one with autism, begins with relatively few contingencies that are overtly aversive in nature. Work is brief and closely monitored by others. But then, progressively, the number and type of interactions multiplies. If one analyzed what maintains these contingencies, then largely (but not exclusively) they are aversive in nature, they are usually avoidance or loss or avoidance of the presentation of an aversive outcome contingencies. For example, homework must be turned in by a certain day, the alarm clock annoyingly goes off, chores must be done by supper time, friends expect you to be with them at inconvenient times, the computer keyboard has an “K” key that is jammed and extremely irritating, you must correctly discriminate between the voice level that is appropriate in the gym and voice level that is appropriate in the class or home.

And so it goes…… But herein sits the paradox. We expect that education not only be done in a way that minimizes the unpleasant or aversive, but even that it moves a child towards learning to avoid the unpleasant or unfortunate. If this theory is true, then the further a child moves in their education, then the greater the amount of aversive contingencies they contact.

So if this theory is true what does it change? And the answer is “not much”…..
This theory doesn’t change the ethical value many of us place on avoiding aversive contingencies in teaching children to the extent possible. Or for that matter, on education that maximizes independence and development interests.

The only thing this paradox could really alter is the way we talk about aversives. We can’t say that we only use reinforcement. We can only say that we try to minimize aversives.



Blogger schwa said...

You seem to know what you are talking about. Maybe you could give me some advice, my blog is I work with children with Autism. The district has given me very little training and I am left to figure things out for myself. I have help from a behavior therapist one a month for an hour. In my blog, I write about different behaviors that I encounter.

12:42 PM  

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