COSAC Definitions



Abuse – any act or omission that deprives or has the potential to deprive an individual of his/her rights or that causes or has the potential to cause physical injury, emotional harm, or distress. The planned use of behavioral intervention techniques, which are a part of an approved behavior modification plan as outlined above, are not considered abuse or neglect.

Aversive stimulus – an item or activity that one avoids or escapes.

From a behavior analytic perspective, it is technically defined by its effect on behavior: when a behavior increases by its contingent removal or when a behavior decreases by its contingent presentation. Aversive stimuli are subjective in nature, that is, what is aversive to one person may be preferred or neutral to another. (See examples of aversive stimuli under punishment.)

Neglect – the failure of a caregiver to provide for the care and safety of individuals under his orher supervision.

Positive Behavior Support – a dynamic and team-building process for designing individualized behavioral intervention plans based on understanding relationships between an individual’s behavior and aspects of his or her environment (i.e., functional behavioral assessment).

Positive behavior support plan – a written document created by all stakeholders (individual, parents, teachers, administrators, consultants, etc.). This document includes the following elements: 1) modifications to the environment, 2) teaching skills to replace problem behaviors, 3) effective management of consequences, and 4) promotion of lifestyle changes.

Punishment – From a behavior analytic perspective, the reduction of a behavior following the contingent presentation or removal of a stimulus. Defining punishment this way is helpfulbecause it emphasizes that punishment is a two-part process. The first part is the environment: presentation or removal of a stimulus contingent upon behavior. The second part is the intervention’s effect on behavior: increase, decrease, or maintain. Too often in our society, more emphasis is given to the intervention than to the intended behavior change. Clearly, the goal is to safely and effectively reduce dangerous behavior using the least restrictive methods possible.

Here are some examples of punishment from a behavior analytic perspective. Please note that these examples are for illustration purposes only.

Examples of Type I punishment – presentation of a stimulus

– A child is running toward the street. The parent yells, “Stop!” The child’s running behavior stops as a result of the yelling.

– A student repeatedly calls out in class. One day, on the first time the student called out, the teacher moved his desk to the front of the room. The student called out less that day as a result of the teacher moving his desk.

– A child with autism bites his own hand. Immediately following a bite, a teacher holds his hands in his lap for 5 seconds. As a result of holding his hands down, the child bites his hand less.

Examples of Type II punishment – removal of a stimulus

– A child pinches his sister while they are playing. The mother tells the child, “You know the rules. If you can’t play nicely, the toy goes away.” The mother removes the toy. As a result, the child pinches his sister less often.

– While playing on the computer with her classmates, a student becomes agitated, curses, and kicks the computer. The teacher removes playground privileges when she has these outbursts. This behavior happens less often when she is with the teacher who removes playground.

– When a child with autism hits his teacher, she provides a 4-minute time out. The hitting behavior decreases as a result of implementing the time out procedure.

Restrictive procedure – an intervention that limits an individual’s ability, freedom, or pleasure.

The definitions of abuse and neglect were adapted from DDD circulars.