Replacement Behavior

Often attention behaviors occur when the student does not know the correct or appropriate way to ask for attention.  Teach appropriate ways to ask for attention. For nonverbal students, create a visual for attention. Use role playing and written scripts to practice asking for attention.Students with autism may want specific types of attention – I have a little guy who loves going on walks with an adult and another that likes to sit near certain people. Sometimes the student needs attention in the form of help. Again a visual can be useful here. Social stories are useful to use as scripts to teach and prompt the appropriate way to ask for help.

Or they know the right way but haven’t been successful with it or the inappropriate way is faster/easier. Why do many kids yell out instead of raising their hand? Because when you raise your hand you don’t always get called on and you may be more likely to get attention if you yell out. The inappropriate behavior might be more successful than the appropriate option. The appropriate way of getting attention might be hard for some students. Many students with autism struggle with language and socializing. Getting attention in the correct way by asking is very difficult for them.

Planned Ignoring

Along with building up that appropriate response, you can ignore the inappropriate response. This is not always possible. Some responses are too dangerous to ignore (self-injurious behavior), too disruptive (a child throwing items during class time), or impossible to ignore when you have a class full of children. But some responses you may be able to ignore. If this behavior is not working any more – ie. the child is not getting attention from doing this behavior, the behavior will decrease. It may initially get worse before it gets better, but it will likely decrease if it is not working any longer. If you aren’t able to ignore the response, you can provide attention that is of lower magnitude or less frequently.

Learn more about planned ignoring here

Non-Contingent Attention

A student will be less likely to use attention seeking behaviors if they are already getting attention. This strategy involves giving students a regular schedule of attention no matter what they are doing. In a classroom this could look like a teacher stopping by a student’s desk every few minutes to see if they need help, having scheduled ‘teacher time’ with a student to give teacher attention to a student, or scheduled peer breaks to provide peer attention. I have used a timer system where I set a timer on my iPhone to a set interval and at every interval I go and provide attention to a student.

Learn more about non-contingent attention here

Time Out

Time out can be an appropriate punishment for attention seeking behaviors because it removes attention. A time out does not need to be in a corner or in the hallway – just any time away from attention. It can be brief. If attention is a powerful reinforcer, this intervention can work quickly. For extreme behaviors, some school use a time out room (mine does not). However you use time out – make sure that the reinforcing aspect of attention are actually removed! The ‘time-in’ environment should be pretty awesome and it should be a not fun experience to have to miss out on it. Figure out if you will have criteria for leaving time out – ie. once the student calms down, stops crying etc. Time out should not be ended will inappropriate behavior is occurring. Will you start time out immediately or will you start once disruptive behaviors has ended?  I sometimes use this visual timer.

Learn more about time out here

Sasha Long
Sasha Long

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