Attention Behaviors {Other Strategies & Common Mistakes}

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. This past week we have gone in-depth on some key strategies for reducing attention maintained problem behaviors. First thing you need to do before trying any of these nifty interventions is teach the appropriate way to get attention! From there you can utilize planned ignoring, noncontingent attention, and time out in combination. Today I want to share a few other intervention ideas along with what you absolutely should not ever, ever do for attention behaviors. You’ll want to read that. trust me. 

Response Blocking: Now there are some behaviors are too dangerous to ignore. Self injurious behavior such as head banging or hand biting could be occurring for attention. Aggression towards teachers and peers can be done for attention. Of course, ethically we just let our kids wail on each other or us. we need to intervene in some way – BUT we don’t want to reinforce that inappropriate response by giving it tons of attention. So you can physically block the response but do so without making eye contact and without providing verbal attention. Make this interaction as brief as possible. Get in, stop the behavior, get out. You don’t want to give the kid what he wants and provide loads of attention for slapping a peer. Redirect and move kids around but again do so without any additional forms of attention (talking, eye contact, etc.). Even be aware of what you are saying to staff. If you perfectly execute  this but then go over to your aides and talk all about it. You kid kind of still got what he wanted right? Spend some serious time training your staff if you are utilizing this intervention. It can be a bit tricky.

Reinforcement When Behavior Does NOT Occur: This time-based interventions is one of my favorites. Set a specific time interval. Use your baseline data to select an achievable time length – just like we did with non contingent attention. Students will be getting a reinforcer for a time interval without the behavior. Explain the contingency to the individual, “If you don’t do any swearing during this 30 second timing, you will get a gummy bear.” Start the timer. At the end of the interval if the student has NOT done the inappropriate behavior – they earn a reinforcer. If they engage in the problem behavior during the timing, the timer gets restarted. So there is a little bit of an aversive consequence in place for the problem behavior. Use a visual timer or visual directions to clarify this! Eventually you can have students earn points after and interval and cash in points for a range of rewards!

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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!



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verbal reprimands, threats, yelling, lectures, etc. –  you are giving the child exactly what they want – attention! Don’t worry, they aren’t “getting away” with the behavior if you don’t yell at them or correct them. Actually they are getting away with it when you do because they are getting exactly what they want – your attention. Work on this with you staff. This is a hard habit to break but you must!

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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. Do you set aside a specific time for your students to use their treats (such as only on Friday or at the end of each day)? Or can they use them at any point during the day (such as break time/free time).

  2. Reinforcement when the behavior does not occur- I love this one but I haven’t found it to be effective for students who don’t show understanding that they are receiving reinforcement for appropriate behavior, then don’t connect not getting a treat/reinforcement with not behaving appropriately. (I can give specific examples if that isn’t making clear sense). Any tips for that? Do you use this with students in your “low” group? I’m sure it’s my implementation, but I think this can be great so I’d love to make it work if it’s possible!

  3. I did at first but then I started fading that out so they could save up points (and work on delayed reinforcement) and work on discrimination for the appropriate times to use points. Some students still needed a specified time. Depends on the kids.

  4. I like reinforcement when the behavior does not occur, with the expectation that the student
    knows that his good behavior is being recognized.
    What is interesting is to space these acknowledgements until they are eliminated so that the
    student adopts it as part of their routine without expecting any compensation.

  5. I don’t understand for example if a child is pulling my hair so I have to ignore it when I ignore it this will make the bad habit go this is exactly what u want to say. Kindly reply to me. Because my brother has this behavior and I want to reduce it because I don’t want anyone to beat him.

  6. Hi there, Removing attention for the desired behavior isn’t always appropriate or safe as you mentioned. We will be reopening our behavior change course soon. Here is the waitlist:


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