Problem behavior maintained by automatic reinforcement is likely to need intervention that is different than that of problem behavior maintained by social reinforcement.
Saini, Greer, et. al. (2016) note that noncontingent reinforcement and response blocking are two interventions that have been shown to reduce problem behavior maintained by automatic reinforcement.
“NCR involves the use of a time-based schedule to deliver stimuli that compete with the automatic reinforcer produced by problem behavior (e.g., Hagopian & Toole, 2009), whereas blocking consists of physical intervention to prevent problem behavior. Blocking can prevent access to the automatic reinforcer that maintains the response (i.e., extinction; Smith, Russo, & Le,1999) or can function as punishment (Lerman & Iwata, 1999)” (Saini, Greer, et. al., 2016).
NCR and blocking have found to be more effective than either intervention alone. These procedures have been used for multiple concerns such as self-injurious behavior and mouthing of items.
In the study presented by Saini, Greer, et. al. (2016), NCR and blocking were used to address individuals with autism spectrum disorder who also displayed either pica or self-injurious behavior maintained by automatic reinforcement. NCR was used with competing stimuli which refers to using stimuli that are incompatible with the problem behavior. For instance, a teething ring and pretzels were some of the competing stimuli identified in the study. With all three children in their study, treatment effects were only found when NCR and blocking were combined. So, the pica and self-injurious behavior decreased when both interventions were combined but not in other conditions.
Response blocking can be a difficult intervention as you must be considerate of not being too physically restrictive to the child; However, Saini, Greer, et. al. (2016) noted that with the child who had SIB of biting his hand, they blocked this by putting their hands over his arms but otherwise allowed free movement. With the children who had pica behaviors, the staff put their hand between the child’s hand and mouth when they attempted to put a non edible item in their mouth rather than physically managing the child.
The study described suggests that to reduce problem behavior maintained by automatic reinforcement, the intervention of combining non-contingent reinforcement (using competing stimuli) and response blocking is most effective.
Saini, V., Greer, B. D., Fisher, W. W., Lichtblau, K. R., DeSouza, A. A. and Mitteer, D. R. (2016), Individual and combined effects of noncontingent reinforcement and response blocking on automatically reinforced problem behavior. Jnl of Applied Behav Analysis, 49: 693–698. doi:10.1002/jaba.306