Managing Unwanted Behaviors in SPD: 15 Extinction Techniques

For children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), navigating the world can be a sensory overload. This can lead to unwanted behaviors, such as tantrums, meltdowns, or seeking excessive sensory input. Extinction techniques can be valuable tools to address these behaviors in a safe and effective manner.

Extinction involves removing the reinforcing factors that maintain undesired behaviors. This means ignoring or withholding attention, praise, or other rewards that may be inadvertently reinforcing the behavior. When the behavior is no longer reinforced, it should gradually decrease in frequency and intensity.

Here are 15 examples of extinction techniques used for SPD, with situations and possible behavior interventions:

Ignoring Crying:

  • Situation: A child with SPD cries when they don’t get their way.
  • Intervention: Ignoring the crying without providing attention or giving in to their demands.

Ignoring Tantrums:

  • Situation: A child with SPD throws a tantrum when they are asked to complete a task.
  • Intervention: Providing a safe space for the child to express their emotions while remaining calm and detached, avoiding giving in to their demands during the tantrum.

Withholding Attention:

  • Situation: A child with SPD seeks attention through disruptive behaviors like whining or yelling.
  • Intervention: Ignoring the disruptive behaviors and only providing attention when the child is behaving appropriately.

Ignoring Sensory Seeking Behaviors:

  • Situation: A child with SPD seeks sensory input through repetitive behaviors like flapping their hands or rocking back and forth.
  • Intervention: Ignoring these behaviors and offering alternative ways for the child to meet their sensory needs, such as a sensory toy or activity.

Removing Rewards:

  • Situation: A child with SPD receives a reward for negative behaviors like hitting or screaming.
  • Intervention: Removing the reward and explaining that these behaviors will not lead to desired outcomes.

Offering Choices:

  • Situation: A child with SPD has difficulty transitioning from one activity to another and resists change.
  • Intervention: Offering choices during transitions, such as choosing which activity to do next or which clothes to wear.

Providing Clear Instructions:

  • Situation: A child with SPD misbehaves due to confusion or lack of understanding.
  • Intervention: Providing clear, concise instructions and expectations for behavior.

Using Visual Schedules:

  • Situation: A child with SPD has difficulty coping with unexpected changes in their routine.
  • Intervention: Implementing visual schedules to provide predictability and structure, helping the child anticipate upcoming transitions.

Offering Sensory Breaks:

  • Situation: A child with SPD becomes overwhelmed and exhibits negative behaviors due to sensory overload.
  • Intervention: Offering a safe space for a sensory break, where the child can engage in calming activities to regulate their sensory system.

Collaborative Problem Solving:

  • Situation: A child with SPD exhibits aggressive behaviors like hitting or pushing.
  • Intervention: Working together with the child to identify the triggers for their behavior and develop alternative coping strategies.

Ignoring Self-Stimulatory Behaviors:

  • Situation: A child with SPD engages in repetitive self-stimulatory behaviors like rocking or stimming.
  • Intervention: Ignoring these behaviors unless they become harmful or interfere with daily activities.

 Offering Positive Alternatives:

  • Situation: A child with SPD seeks attention through disruptive behaviors like making loud noises.
  • Intervention: Providing positive alternatives for seeking attention, such as giving them a job to do or offering verbal praise for desired behaviors.

Teaching Social Skills:

  • Situation: A child with SPD struggles with social interactions and exhibits inappropriate behaviors like talking over others or interrupting.
  • Intervention: Teaching the child appropriate social skills through role-playing, social stories, and modeling appropriate behavior.

Encouraging Communication:

  • Situation: A child with SPD expresses their needs through negative behaviors due to difficulty communicating effectively.
  • Intervention: Helping the child develop their communication skills by teaching them appropriate ways to express their wants and needs.

Implementing a Token System:

  • Situation: A child with SPD exhibits negative behaviors throughout the day.
  • Intervention: Implementing a token system where the child earns tokens for desired behaviors and loses tokens for negative behaviors. These tokens can be exchanged for rewards or privileges.


  • It’s important to use extinction techniques consistently and in conjunction with other positive reinforcement strategies. It may take time and patience to see a decrease in undesired behaviors. Consulting with a qualified therapist can help develop a personalized plan that best addresses the child’s specific needs and challenges.

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