How to Reduce Elopement through Differential Negative Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior (DNRA)
First, what is Elopement? Elopement can be operationally defined as Any instance where a child runs, without permission, outside a designated area (3 or more feet from parent/caregiver) following a denied request and/or to escape a task demand. If this sounds familiar, then you’ve likely experienced elopement and are already aware of how terrifyingly dangerous it can be. So, what can we do about it? We can use an intervention called Differential Negative Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior (DNRA). DNRA is an evidenced-based procedure in which we provide reinforcement for the correct/alternative behavior while withholding reinforcement for the incorrect behavior (i.e., eloping). In addition to that, we would also use access to the target behavior (i.e., elopement) as a reinforcer (contingent on an alternative and socially appropriate behavior being exhibited).
Now that we have our definitions out of the way, let’s talk about where we go from here. The first thing we do before we plan intervention is to figure out the function of the behavior or the reason the child is engaging in this behavior. Does the child want attention (i.e., sees their best friend in the distance and runs toward them), to avoid an aversive stimulus (i.e., loud noises or nonpreferred task), and/or access to tangibles (i.e., runs towards the street to get a ball)? When we understand the function of the behavior it’s easier to empathize with the child and will allow you to tailor your response so that this behavior is no longer necessary. Once we understand what the function of the behavior is when can now implement a DNRA procedure. Now, instead of receiving a “punishing consequence” when leaving a designated area, we provide the child with opportunities to elope under more favorable conditions. This gives the child a sense of control and decreases the likelihood of you having a heart attack – LOL.
Does that make sense? If not, here’s an example:
Let’s say Kennedi runs out of the classroom (elopes) when the teacher says, “It’s time for work”. Here, we can assume that the function of Kennedi’s elopement behavior is to escape task demand. Using DNRA, we would teach Kennedi to ask for a break when she needs it (you can use a break card/PECS if vocal language is too difficult or not yet possible). This is the alternative/replacement behavior. When Kennedi uses the break card, she is immediately reinforced with a break/opportunity to escape. However, if Kennedi elopes without using the replacement behavior, she doesn’t get access to a break and all attempts to elope are blocked. Then Kennedi must complete the task demand before getting another opportunity to gain access to reinforcement (i.e., escape).
*Note to Remember: Although people diagnosed with ASD may not communicate the way you do… they do communicate! You just have to really listen.
– Glenn S. Harrell Jr., M.Ed., LBA, BCBA