Attention Behaviors {Behavior Week}

Categories: Interventions | Resources

Attention behaviors tend to be the most annoying, for me anyways. Whining, fighting, talking back, swearing, and yelling out can all be attention seeking behaviors. When you think about attention – don’t assume it is good attention. Attention can come in many forms from teacher reprimands to student ridicule to praise. There are a variety of strategies and interventions you can utilize to decrease attention seeking behaviors.

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.
So, if the student doesn’t know an appropriate alternative behavior (a behavior that will get them attention), teach them one. If they do, build that skill! Give them TONS of attention when they do that behavior immediately after they do it. Make the appropriate response significantly more effective than the inappropriate behavior. You can fade it later. Right now you want to make that response their go-to.
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.
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.
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. Check out my freebie for my time out visual. I sometimes use this visual timer:
response blocking: Some behaviors are too dangerous to ignore. Self injurious behavior such as head banging or hand biting could be occurring for attention. Physically blocking the response can be done without making eye contact or providing verbal attention but can still stop the response from completing.
token economy: There are tons of different systems for token economies! Basically a token economy is a behavior change system that provides tokens or points for desired behaviors and can be exchanged for reinforcing items at a set time. This is a great way to work on skills at a class or group level and build up the appropriate responses!
providing reinforcement when behavior does not occur: Some time-based interventions can be used for attention seeking behaviors. I really like interval schedules for providing reinforcement. An intervention that could be used would be setting a specific time interval (start with something achievable!) and at the end of the interval if the student has NOT done the inappropriate behavior – they earn a reinforcer. Another use for a visual timer! I have also used timer apps on the iPods for kids using this intervention! This can be a very effective and easy to implement intervention!


what DOESN’T work for attention seeking behaviors: verbal reprimands, threats, yelling, etc. – you are giving the child exactly what they want – attention! 



Monday: Identifying Target Behaviors and Function (you gotta know where to start right?)

Tuesday: Attention Maintained Behaviors (every classroom has some of this… you now who I’m talking about)

Wednesday: Escape Maintained Behaviors (what crafty and clever things are you students doing to get out of work and how can we stop it?)

Thursday: Sensory Behaviors (let’s delve into the whole wonderful world of scripting, stimming, and more)

Friday: Behavior Management Products

Saturday: The Dos and Don’ts of a Token Economy 


Seven Steps for Setting Up a Stellar Autism Room




  1. Great info on your site.
    Can you please explain the difference between providing non-contingent attention and providing reinforcement when a behavior does not occur. Is it pretty much the same thing? Can you help me understand why providing reinforcement when a behavior does not occur is helpful to shaping a behavior? Maybe I am thinking too hard about this. Thanks much 🙂

  2. Hi Jenny! Yes – it is completely confusing. So noncontingent attention means that you are providing attention (or reinforcement) that is not contingent on the behavior occurring. Noncontingent attention is used to decrease an inappropriate behavior (not increase an appropriate one). The idea behind noncontingent attention is that if a student is getting what he wants for free – he will have no need to engage in an inappropriate behavior to get. So if a student is being self-injurious to get attention, but he now gets attention at a regular rate – he will not need to be self-injurious to get attention. Does that make sense? Noncontingent attention is often used in combination with other interventions such as extinction (the inappropriate behavior no longer results in access to reinforcer – so that self-injurious behavior no longer gets attention from adults) and functional communication training (teaching an appropriate way to get access to the reinforcer). Does that make sense? Sorry that was long winded 🙂


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