In 1978, Dr. Richard Foxx, along with his co-author Shapiro, stated,
“Despite the impressive record of the timeout procedure in recent years, some school districts and institutions have chosen never to adopt, abolish, or greatly restrict its use for a variety of reasons.”
The authors went on to list the reasons behind the concern over timeout rooms.
- People had concerns over the use of punishment and aversives.
- People were using the procedure incorrectly by placing individuals in isolation for extended periods of time (timeout is effective, even when 1-minute in length. Read more here).
- Using a timeout room requires specially designed space.
- Untrained people may not be using timeout correctly.
- Timeout is not always effective, particularly when used with children who are trying to escape or avoid work or certain people.
Thirty-four years ago, experts in behavior analysis (professionals who are specifically trained to modify behavior) expressed specific concerns about the use of exclusionary timeout rooms just like those used recently in a Connecticut town. Moreover, we have 34 years of research since then that we can use to guide our practices.
Prevent Challenging Behavior from Occurring
Recent research has shown us that often, we can prevent challenging behavior before it happens, reducing the overall need for consequence procedures. A number of strategies may be used to prevent behaviors. These strategies include but are certainly not limited to:
- Improving the quality of instruction
- Modifying materials to improve the interest level
- Providing students with choice
- Allowing students to complete shorter amounts of work
- Providing work breaks
- Prespecifying reinforcement (telling students what will come when they finish)
Teach Replacement Behaviors
Recent research has also shown us that we can teach students replacement behaviors that they may use in place of the challenging behaviors. Often times, this is communication. One specific intervention that may be used is called Functional Communication Training (FCT) and you may read more about that here.
We can also teach students how to follow rules, how to transition, and how to complete certain tasks. Formal instruction is a major component of any behavior plan.
Increase Reinforcement for Appropriate Behaviors
Finally, we have learned through research that if we increase reinforcement for appropriate behaviors, that appropriate behaviors will occur more often. When students increase the amount of time they engage in appropriate behaviors, they often experience a concomitant decrease in challenging behaviors.
Thirty-four years ago, we knew that timeout rooms were not the best strategy for addressing challenging behavior. Thirty-four years later, they continue to be a bad strategy. Since 1978, we have learned to prevent behavior, teach replacement behaviors, and reinforce appropriate behaviors as a comprehensive way to address challenging behaviors.
If you would like to read the original article for yourself, you may find it here. For additional information about preventing behavior, teaching replacement behaviors, and reinforcing appropriate behaviors, look here.