NADD Bulletin Volume XI Number 5 Article 3

Complete listing

The Reduction of Aberrant Behaviors Following the Removal of Aversive Procedures

Greg Handel; Renee Briggs; Nicole Connolly, The Halcyon Center



Though aversive stimuli have often been used to reduce the frequency of aberrant behaviors, it may be the case that, at times, the stress produced by these techniques may inadvertently increase the frequency of aberrant behaviors. This may be particularly true when the function of a behavior is escape or avoidance from high stress situations. Additionally, attention seeking behavior may also increase when an individual perceives a high degree of stress. This may also result in increases of aberrant behaviors that have been determined to have an attention seeking function when high stress situations occur. The following study examined the results of the removal of aversive stimuli as a consequence of aberrant behavior and replacing it with DRO procedures.




The subject was a 22-year-old woman diagnosed with ADHD, bipolar disorder, and mild mental retardation. The woman had a long history of aberrant behaviors including: physical aggression, property destruction, stealing, refusing to take medication, verbal outburst, and elopement. Prior to her present residential placement, she resided in a community residence that she shared with five other residents. The residence was locked 24-hours per day. She then moved into another community residence that was not locked. She currently shares this home with three other housemates. Both residences were staffed continually.




At the subject’s prior residence, aberrant behaviors were followed by an aversive consequence such as mild shock, physical, and/or mechanical restraints. Subsequent to her move to her present residence, a functional analysis was conducted using Durand’s M.A.S., Iwata’s F.A.S.T., and direct observation. The results of this analysis indicated the aberrant behaviors served an attention seeking function with a secondary function of internal arousal. When the subject moved to her new home the use of all aversive procedures was discontinued. A DRO program was initiated with tokens delivered hourly following the absence of all aberrant behaviors. Tokens were exchanged at the end of the day for a one-to-one activity with a preferred staff.

Data were recorded by direct support staff using an interval spoilage method at hourly intervals. Reliability checks were conducted by staff’s supervisors at least weekly and demonstrated 100% reliability of the data. The data was collapsed into the average daily frequencies of all aberrant behaviors reported on a monthly basis.




The chart and corresponding graph indicate a dramatic reduction in aberrant behaviors following the removal of aversive consequences. This result has been sustained over a seven-month period.





Daily Average   

MONTH 139.4   

MONTH 231.1   

MONTH 327.2   

MONTH 433.4   

Removal of Aversive   

MONTH 50.3   

MONTH 60.3   

MONTH 71.6   

MONTH 82.3   

MONTH 91.3   

MONTH 101.6   

MONTH 112.3 






The data seem to indicate that the aversive treatment the subject received at her previous residence may have been inadvertently provoking the aberrant behaviors they were designed to reduce. However, the results of this study is somewhat confounded by the fact that a change in residence occurred simultaneously with a change in treatment procedures. However, the new facility was unlocked, which could have occasioned an increase in elopement that was prevented at her previous home since it was continually locked. Given that the opportunity to engage in aberrant behavior increased in the new home but the frequency actually decreased, it seems that the less restrictive approach was effective in reducing the aberrant behavior and the greater restrictiveness of the previous program may have inadvertently increased the rate of aberrant behavior.