One of our goals for improving the quality of lives through effective intervention is to share with our readers research on effective treatments. We do this by summarizing peer-reviewed research articles. Yesterday, in response to our post on Scream Rooms (also known as Time Out Rooms), a twitter follower asked, “what else can teachers do?” Thus, it seems appropriate that we should review a study that demonstrates one effective alternative to time out.
The purpose of the study was to determine which of two interventions would be effective at reducing attention-maintained challenging behavior (when children act out in order to get reactions from their teachers).
The authors also set out to determine which effects of the two interventions would generalize to untrained teachers. For example, a teacher could implement a behavior plan in her class but when the substitute teacher is present, he may not implement the intervention. If the child’s good behavior happens with the trained teacher and with the new/untrained teacher, it is said to generalize. If the child’s good behavior does not happen with the new/untrained teacher, the effects failed to generalize. Obviously, teachers would want interventions that work with them as well as with their substitutes.
Twelve children participated in the study. Children ranged in ages between 3.5 years and 5 years of age. The children were diagnosed with a variety of conditions including attention deficit disorder, language delay, autism, or developmental delay. The children engaged in a variety of inappropriate behaviors including aggression, opposition, tantrums, and property destruction. Six children were assigned to one treatment group and six children were assigned to the other treatment group.
The authors completed a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) for all 12 students. As part of the FBA, the authors completed a functional analysis to demonstrate that all 12 children engaged in various challenging behaviors in order to gain attention from their teachers (The authors referred to this as Study 1). This type of behavior is known as attention-maintained behavior.
Before treatment, the researchers observed children during regular school work activities. The work was considered easy work but the teachers did not provide a high rate of attention for appropriate behaviors.
The researchers compared the results of two interventions. (The authors called this Study 2). One intervention was time out. We discussed time out and its variations here yesterday. The second intervention the authors studied was called Functional Communication Training (FCT). You may read more about it here (You will find other evidence-based strategies on that website if you are interested). FCT has a substantial research base to support its use. With FCT, teachers simply teach children to communicate instead of acting out to get what they want. Often we teach children to talk but sometimes we teach children to use pictures to communicate if they cannot speak very well.
In this study, teachers implemented time out by simply removing all instructional materials and turning their backs to the children for 10 seconds each time the child engaged in challenging behavior.
During FCT, teachers taught the children to ask for teacher attention by saying things like, “Am I doing good work?”
Once the researchers demonstrated that the intervention was working, a new/substitute teacher was brought in to see if the intervention effects would generalize. (The authors called this Study 3).
Time out effectively reduced the rates of challenging behavior for all 6 children in the treatment group. Similarly, FCT effectively reduced the rates of challenging behavior for all 6 children in the treatment group.
However, when the new teacher worked with the children, the results were remarkably different. Specifically, children who received the time out intervention, failed to generalize their good behavior to the new teacher. Essentially, their challenging behavior returned to pre-treatment levels with the new teacher.
On the other hand, children in the FCT group, generalized their good behavior to the new teacher. Not only did they maintain good behavior, they used their new communication with the new teacher.
Thus, while brief time out from teacher attention may be effective at reducing attention-maintained behavior, the improved behavior will not generalize to new, untrained teachers. However, FCT teaches children to use communication instead of challenging behavior. This results in improved behavior and the improvement carries over to new, untrained teachers.
So, if you find yourself wondering what to do instead of time out, try teaching the child to communicate instead of acting out.