Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Isolation Timeout Used with Students with Emotional Disorders

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Isolation Timeout Used with Students with Emotional Disorders

Article excerpt

Few behavioral management techniques have generated as much controversy as isolation timeout. Timeout has been defined as a behavior-reduction technique involving contingent withdrawal from reinforcing stimuli for a specified period of time (Algozzine, 1985; Brantner & Doherty, 1983; Gallagher, Mittelstadt, & Slater, 1988; Gast & Nelson, 1977). Educators and other professionals have used timeout procedures To modify a broad range of maladaptive behaviors in children and youth.

Timeout is a somewhat aversive procedure on the continuum of behavior-reduction techniques, which also include environmental modification, differential reinforcement, response cost, overcorrection, aversive conditioning, and corporal punishment. Ideally, educators and other professionals can manage children's inappropriate behaviors through positive approaches such as reinforcement, modeling, and skill training. When positive management fails, practitioners may resort to timeout without first considering such nonpunitive behavior-reduction interventions as changing task demands or reducing task complexity. Although practitioners should consider many approaches to managing disruptive and destructive behavior before using timeout, they do not always do so.

Professionals working with children have applied timeout procedures in many settings, including residential treatment facilities (Drabman & Spitalnik, 1973; Miller, 1986), special education classrooms (Ruhl, 1985; Zabel, 1986), and day treatment facilities (Gallagher et al., 1988). Parents of children with oppositional behaviors have been trained to use timeout procedures (Gard & Berry, 1986). Separate surveys found that 88% of special education teachers (Ruhl, 1985) and 85% of school psychologists (Shapiro & Lentz, 1985) used timeout procedures.

Categories of timeout procedures vary in level of restrictiveness, depending on the extent to which the individual is removed from positive reinforcement following an inappropriate behavior (Gast & Nelson, 1977; Harris, 1985; Polsgrove, 1982; Rutherford, 1978). The continuum of ascending restrictiveness includes such procedures as planned ignoring, during which social attention is removed from the individual; contingent observation, where a student watches from the periphery but may not participate in group activities during the timeout period; exclusion timeout, when a student is removed from the reinforcing environment but may sit facing the corner of the room; and isolation or seclusion timeout, the most restrictive of these interventions, in which the student is removed from the classroom and stays alone in a barren room for a specified period of time (Harris, 1985; Rutherford, 1978).

Isolation is the most frequently used timeout procedure (Gast & Nelson, 1977) and the procedure most frequently cited in the literature (Rutherford, 1978). Research has indicated that isolation is the most effective of the timeout procedures for several reasons. It controls the possibility of intermittent reinforcement for maladaptive behavior that may occur when the student remains in the classroom (Gast & Nelson, 1977; Rutherford, 1978). It protects child care workers, teachers, and students from verbal and physical abuse (MacDonough & Forehand, 1973). Timeout is a "very cheap form of intervention effective with children in residential schools, psychiatric and other institutions" (Topping, 1983, p. 364). Successful use of isolation timeout procedures has been demonstrated with multiple populations, including psychiatric inpatients, youths with behavioral disorders in day treatment programs (Crespi, 1988), delinquent adolescents (Burchard & Tyler, 1965; Tyler & Brown, 1967), preschool children (Sachs, 1973), and children in residential institutions (Drabman & Spitalnik, 1973).

Practitioners who use isolation timeout in a behavior management system must address legal and ethical concerns. …

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