Operant Conditioning and Behavior Modification in children with ADHD

Psychological models such as classical conditioning and operant conditioning are suggested to be effective tools through which an individual’s behavior may be modified. These two are associative learning models where an individual may learn a desirable behavior or extinguish an undesirable one, by associating such behaviors with respective favorable stimuli or consequences (Myers, 2010, p. 301). Whereas in classical conditioning a subject makes associations between a conditional stimulus and the unconditional stimulus associated with it, eliciting an automatic response, in operant conditioning, a subject makes associations between one’s actions and subsequent consequences (Myers, 2010, p. 301). Thus, in the later, those actions that are reinforced become more often, whereas those that are punished become less performed, and eventually lead to their extinction (Myers, 2010, p. 301). Accordingly, operant conditioning presents a potent tool for changing undesirable habits and introducing habits that are desirable, a subject that this essay focuses on highlighting how impulsivity – a behavioral symptom associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); a common occurring disruptive behavior in children – may be modified via operant conditioning principles.

ADHD critically impairs the success of children in their future pursuits, as adults. It is characterized by persistent lack of attention, hyperactivity and being impulsive (Martel, Gremillion, Roberts, von Eye, & Nigg, 2010). With respect to impulsivity, a child usually interferes with conversations or games of other children abruptly, blurts out answers without waiting for the teacher or the individual asking the question to complete, and has difficult in awaiting one’s turn (CTADD, Inc., n.d.).  Due to such behavioral inclinations, such children may fail to learn the content presented in classrooms and home environment appropriately thus resulting into poor academic performance and curtailed integration into society (Frazier, Youngstrom, Glutting & Watkins, 2007). Such impairment in their academic and social life adversely affects their success later in life. Progression of these impulsive behaviors into adolescence and adulthood however mainly arises out of the lack of motivation of the child to learn alternative and desirable behaviors in environments such as home and school. Out of such a perspective, it is suggested that “Behavior therapy/modification, in which parents and teachers are taught how to work with their children, is the most … effective, nonmedical, short-term treatment for ADHD” (CTADD Inc, n.d., p. 2). The subsequent section thus describes a plan that may be used to modify impulsive behavior in children to achieve self-control by training them to talk to themselves (Meichenbaum, 1971). Go to part 2.

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