Attention Behaviors {Planned Ignoring}

Categories: Interventions | Resources

Yesterday we discussed (at length!) the dire need for teaching a replacement behavior. The reduction interventions will NOT work (or not work so well or quickly) without that vital first step. While you are working on teaching or shaping up an appropriate behavior – you can also implement interventions to reduce the problem behavior. One great intervention to start with for attention behaviors is planned ignoring. It’s a simple concept – the behavior functions to get attention. If you remove attention, the student will no longer be getting anything out of the behavior and will stop. If only it were always so simple in real life.

You can implement planned ignoring by simply ignoring the inappropriate response. When the student engages in the behavior, go not provide attention for inappropriate response. The are a few guidelines to running this successfully and also a few things to watch out for.

  • Be explicit with your staff about implementing this intervention. If one staff member provides attention, it will ruin your chances at really seeing a decrease. Consider letting the lunch room workers, case manager, social worker, etc. about this intervention. Whoever might possibly walk into your room.

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  • If you aren’t able to ignore the response, you can provide attention that is of lower magnitude or less frequently.
  • Teach the rest of your class the meaning of the word “ignore.” This has been a godsend in my classroom. When are implementing planned ignoring – I can tell my other students, “Just ignore it” and they all go busily on with their day.

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Warning: I don’t want to scare yo away from this intervention because it can be amazingly powerful and effective but I want you to be prepared. When a response no longer functions to gain attention, there may be a temporary increase in behaviors and/or aggression. Think about when an elevator button breaks. You press it once, you press it again. Then what do you do? You jam and jam on that button thinking that somehow the strength and frequency of your pushes will pull that elevator down towards you. With planned ignoring, the behavior will likely get worse immediately.


Withstand the increase. Providing attention for increased behaviors will only teach student to escalate responses. The increase will be temporary. For me – when I see these – I rejoice. You think I am nuts but when I see a burst in behaviors – I know I hit the nail on the head on got the right function. So buckle down and brave the storm. You can do it!

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One major caveat on when you should NOT utilize planned ignoring. Safety Risk situations. Some responses are too dangerous to ignore (extreme aggression or self-injurious behavior). Planned ignoring should not be used with these behaviors.

Some behaviors may be impossible to ignore. When attention is to gain peer attention and your student is often around peers (that cannot be taught to ignore). Whipping out your private parts in the lunchroom cannot be ignored not matter how hard you try to teach a bunch of 5th graders to ignore.

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This post is part of Summer Series: Reducing Problem Behavior. Click here to see more in this series!

The Autism Helper - Summer Series



  1. Fabulous suggestion! I used this with one of my students this year, but you are right, if not everyone involved is on board, then it will not work. Happily, my Autism Coach joined me on this when the “nicey nice” methods didn’t work for her (providing extra attention and rewards when a negative behavior takes place). That approach can be quite frustrating for me to watch. After everyone in our department was told to ignore this students behavior in the hallway, we had to then deal with our Gen. Ed. teachers, other assistants, etc. They would provide oodles of attention and made my job more challenging. The behavior was never fully resolved due to this. I love your posts and will keep reading! 🙂

    Debbie Singer
    Autism Educators, Inc.

  2. This is so fabulous – I love the idea of posting the note about planned ignoring, and making sure EVERYONE is on board and knows what you’re doing! I would have OTs and Speech come in and would play right into what the student was doing, and what we were trying to stop. I swear I could almost hear the evil villain laugh – muahhahahahha – from the child haha!
    You talked about when *not* to do planned ignoring, such as if there’s aggressive or harmful behaviors – I have a student that LOVES to bite/pinch (adults and other students) – do you have suggestions for trying to rid him of that behavior? Thank you so much – I read your blog all the time, have bought many of your products, and have learned SOOOOO much from you!!

  3. A baseline really helps see if an intervention is working. Taking a baseline was the portion I was missing but will definitely use now. I also have a new outlook on the planned ignoring process because I have often given up when the behavior escalates now I will rejoice. Yay!

  4. Great example, Debbie! If everyone is not on board – it truly doesn’t work! SO frustrating!

  5. Thank you so much for reading, Kelly! Depends on if the behavior is for attention or escape? Definitely can’t ignore a bite, right? Haha. Check out some of the other intervention posts from last week and the upcoming week for more ideas.

  6. Great! When the behavior spikes – you know you are on the right track!

  7. I so agree with all of this. It’s essential (but can be tough) to get all staff on board. I know the feelings you describe about the moment you realize you got the right function! I had similar joys this year with extinction bursts that made me think “only in this autism world of ours would this difficult behavior escalating be such a good sign” Love it. Peer attention can be the absolute most difficult attention- seeking behavior to reduce. Great post!

  8. I have a student that is extremely aggressive. In 3 hours, he hit over 139 times, spit more than 10 times, and engaged in SIB more than 10 times. In a 15 minute period, he was aggressive over 30 times. He has slapped, kicked a small child in the mouth, left welps on other students, throws objects with intent to hurt others and demonstrates just full rage to the point bus drivers are in tears daily and people are refusing to work in my room because they don’t want to be physically abused all day. We ignore the behaviors, but his behaviors have been ignored for almost 2 years and the only thing that has changed is that he has gotten bigger and stronger. I have determined the function of his behavior attention, which is why we ignore him. I can withstand the aggression, but cannot stand when he hurts someone else. Do you have any suggestions decreasing behaviors in this case? I am open to any and all suggestions!!!

  9. Hi Mandi, I would not use planned ignoring with behaviors that are that intense. Really focus on making sure he has appropriate ways to get attention and shape & reinforcer those insanely consistently. I would consider trying reinforcement for intervals without behavior and ensuring you have some really powerful reinforcers available. Or noncontingent attention: This process will be long & hard because it sounds like these behaviors are very successful for him unfortunately! Good luck! 🙂

  10. Thank you for this post. Writing a little letter for all school staff seems a great idea. I could probably have a few copies ready to just give one to any new staff member that happens to work with the student when there is no time to discuss beforehand.

  11. Great idea!

  12. Would you suggest planned ignoring for a student who grabs people’s butts or chests? He doesn’t grab in a malicious or in a sexually harassing manner, but just because of the quick reaction he gets from others. I have thought it might be helpful to ignore these behaviors and pay/give extra attention to the times that he appropriately asks or gestures for attention, but was unsure since this type of behavior could be seen as sexual assault-although that isn’t how it’s intended.

  13. Tricky question. Keep in mind that although you may be able to ignore this behavior – other people like won’t. Even if the behavior is decreased or even eliminated in your presence it may reappear when new people come in the room or environment. I would definitely decrease the magnitude of attention for these responses and do like you said – give much more attention to the replacement behavior (also ensure that this behavior is consistently reinforced and is easy for him to do). If this behavior is for the hypothesized function of attention, you could remove your attention from him a few minutes after he does it (so instead of ignoring, get up and walk away). Hope this helps! Take lots of data 🙂


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