Addressing Attention-Seeking Behaviors with Special Needs Students

Addressing Attention-Seeking Behaviors with Special Needs Students

Attention-seeking behavior is an ongoing issue when working with special needs students of all ages. It is a simple equation. Behavior plus response equals reinforcement. The attention can be negative or positive. The child may still interpret the interaction as positive.

The immediate solution to the problem is to ignore the behavior unless there is a danger that the child might hurt someone. Minimize contact without displaying approval or disapproval. Be consistent. Intermittent reinforcement will only make the child more resistant to changing the behavior.

Attention-seeking behavior

There are behavioral strategies that provide a child with the attention that is not contingent on the behavior problem. These therapeutic modalities have been known to address, support and improve outcomes:

Differential Reinforcement of Appropriate Behavior (DRA)

The appropriate behavior is determined in advance. The child then receives attention for said behavior. In other words, the child is given a task and a certain amount of time to complete it in. If he or she does this without engaging in the problem behavior, then he or she is given positive attention.

Differential Reinforcement of Other Behavior (DRO)

This approach involves giving attention to the child for any appropriate behavior. Any time the child exhibits this behavior within a specified period, without engaging in the problem behavior, he or she is rewarded with positive attention.

Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behavior (DRI)

One last approach is to reward any behavior that is incompatible with the behavior problem. Sitting quietly is antithetical to throwing a tantrum. If the child is prone to outbursts, he or she receives positive attention when quiet.

As simple as these methods sound, there must be functional analysis. If you wish to determine whether the behavior problem serves to get attention or some other purpose, you must study the function of the behavior. You must consider all the factors.

Get into some of the Five W’s.

  • Who was present during the behavior? 
  • What happened before, during and after the behavior?
  • Where and when did it happen?
  • We all need attention. Some of us crave it. It is no different for people with autism and related disorders. The key is to ensure that attention is not triggered by behavior problems.
erik glazer principal harbor school

Harbor School a private special education school in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Our mission at Harbor School is to help all of our special needs students with learning, social, language, behavioral, and other disabilities. Our highly skilled staff are committed daily to helping each student reach their full potential.

We would be more than happy to discuss your child's specific needs and challenges, so please call us at 732.544.9394, or request a tour at Harbor School in Eatontown, NJ. We are located just minutes off of the Garden State Parkway at exit 105 and conveniently located off of Route 35 and Route 36 in Monmouth County, NJ.

Erik Glazner, 
Principal-Harbor School, Eatontown, NJ