Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible or Alternate Behaviors

Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible or Alternate Behaviors


DRI: Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behavior.

DRA: Differential Reinforcement of Alternate Behavior.


One way to get rid of a problem behavior, especially a dangerous behavior like self-injurious behavior (hitting one's self, biting one's self) is to reinforce a behavior that is incompatible: in other words, you can't hit yourself if you are doing something else more productive with your hands, like clapping. Using differential reinforcement of an incompatible behavior (DRI) may be an effective way to redirect a dangerous behavior, or it can be used as part of a behavioral (ABA) program that will extinguish the behavior. In order to effectively extinguish a behavior, you need to be sure the replacement behavior serves the same function. Clapping hands may very well stop a child from hitting him or herself in the head in the short run, but in the long run, if hitting him or herself functions to provide an escape from non-preferred activities, clapping hands will only temporarily keep the child from hitting him or herself.

When conducting single case research, the norm for studying the effectiveness of interventions with children with severe disabilities, a reversal is critical to providing evidence that the intervention really does create the effect you have seen in the intervention period. For most single case studies, the easiest reversal is to withdraw any intervention to see if the desired skill or behavior stays at the same level of performance. For self-injurious or dangerous behaviors, there are significant ethical questions raised by withdrawing treatment. By reinforcing the incompatible behavior, it creates a safety zone before returning to the interventions.


An effective way to get rid of a target behavior that may be causing difficulty for your student, preventing him or her from succeeding in gaining the skills they need is to find a replacement behavior and reinforce it. Extinction requires that you don't reinforce the target behavior, but instead reinforce an alternate behavior. It is most powerful if that alternative behavior serves the same function for your student.

I had a student with ASD who had very little independent language, though he had strong receptive language. He would hit other children in the lunchroom or specials (the only time he was out of the self-contained classroom.) He never hurt anyone -- it was obvious he was doing it for attention. We decided to teach him how to greet other students, especially students (usually female) he was interested in. I used Video Self-Modeling, and almost fell over the day he announced (after I was observed by my supervisor, the Assistant Principal) "Bye-bye, Mr. Wood!"


DRI: The team at the Acorn School were concerned about the scarring occurring around Emily's wrists from her self-injurious behavior. They have put scrunchy bracelets on her wrists and given her a lot of praise: i.e. "What pretty bracelets you have, Emily!" A decrease in self-injurious wrist biting has occurred. The team believes this has been an effective use of DRI: Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behavior.

DRA: Mr. Martin decided it was time to address Jonathon's hand flapping. He decided that Jonathon's hand flapping appears when he is anxious, and when he is excited. He and Jonathon picked out some large beads that they have put on a piece of leather. They will be "worry beads" and Jonathon self-monitors their use, earning a sticker for every five times he uses his beads instead of flapping his hands. This is Differential Reinforcement of an Alternate Behavior, (DRA), which serves the same function, providing him a sensory outlet for his hands during times of excitement of anxiety.