Tip of the Week: Use a Time-Out Ribbon

Time-out can be an effective procedure for addressing behaviors that do not function for escape. However, often it can be difficult to implement, and in some schools is not even allowed. There are valid concerns related to time-out. For example, you may not have the opportunity to supervise a child in a separate location for time-out, or you might want to keep them in the same place so they don’t miss a lesson during class.

The time-out ribbon may be an excellent solution for just those types of instances. When Foxx and Shapiro (1978) first wrote about the time-out ribbon, they referred to it as “nonexclusionary time-out,” meaning the individual does not have to be excluded from an environment or activity to be “in time-out.” In their initial study, all students wore a ribbon on their wrist. When the individual has the time-out ribbon on, they have access to socially-mediated reinforcement. If the time-out ribbon is removed, they do not have access to that reinforcement. (Foxx & Shapiro also note that it does not have to be a ribbon, but could be anything that is easy to wear and easy to remove.) However, by again demonstrating appropriate behavior, the ribbon can be placed again on the individual’s wrist.

In a time where we often focus on new, high tech solutions, such as the use of iPads or SmartBoards to introduce behavior change procedures, it’s important to draw attention to low-tech solutions that are easy to implement. Another aspect of the time-out ribbon that is attractive for our particular population is that it provides a clear visual indication that reinforcement is available.

A possible drawback is that, in a classroom setting, if the ribbon is removed, the student could continue to engage in disruptive behavior. Foxx and Shapiro emphasize the need to pair the ribbon with social reinforcement when first introducing it to the individual. This increases the likelihood that the individual will correct their behavior to earn the ribbon back.

Foxx & Shapiro demonstrated the effectiveness of the time-out ribbon with five boys with developmental disabilities. Since then, two more studies have demonstrated the efficacy of the procedure. We know that time-out can be highly effective from a wealth of research over recent decades, but if it’s not available, you should definitely consider the possible use of the time-out ribbon.

Further Reading

Alberto, P.A., Heflin, L.J., & Andrews, D. (2002). Use of the timeout ribbon procedure during community-based instruction. Behavior Modification, 26(2), 297-311.

Foxx, R.M. & Shapiro, S.T. (1978). The timeout ribbon: A nonexclusionary timeout procedure. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 11(1), 125-136.

Laraway, S., Snycerski, S., Michael, J. & Poling, A. (2001). The abative effect: A new term to describe the action of antecedents that reduce operant responding. The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, 18, 101-104.


Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-12 in NYC. Working in education for ten years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam has developed strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently pursuing her PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College.