Strategies for Attention Seeking Behaviors
strategies for attention seeking behaviors in the special education classrooms

Attention Seeking Behaviors

We all want and need attention, but as special education teachers, we all have that one (or 2 or 3) students who just want it MORE! It becomes frustrating for us when we have students with increased challenging behaviors when they are attention seeking.  

I want to give you some strategies to help those behaviors decrease. 

Collecting Data

The first thing that you should be doing is collecting accurate ABC data on the behavior.  We want to know what the antecedent, behavior, and consequence are so that we can take a good guess on what the function of that behavior is.  

Is it really attention-seeking? So before you try to do any type of intervening, make sure that you collect the data to see what is actually going on.  We want to look at the patterns of behavior over a given time.  Don't take data for one day and think that is enough, I want you to take a few days, or even a week's worth of data collection to see where they are.  

If you are looking for already done your data collection sheets, you can grab my data sheets from my TpT store. 

child is seeking attention is special education classes

What is attention?

Attention is that warm and fuzzy feeling you get when someone compliments you, or someone laughs at your jokes, or even gives you a smile.   That is all good attention, called positive attention.  But there is also negative attention. Negative attention happens when you give your child attention for something you don't like.  If your child keeps tugging at your shirt and calling your name, you may tell her to “Stop!” In this example, you have given your child attention. 

child having a meltdown in special education

But is it really attention-seeking?

Let's go over some examples.  Johnny has a meltdown and flops to the floor and bangs his head on the ground.  Mrs. Smith brings him to the de-escalation room to calm him down every time.   Johnny gets to listen to soft music and lay on the bean bag.   Is this attention-seeking behavior or a sensory need that is being met?  Maybe Johnny is tired, maybe Johnny loves music, or maybe Johnny loves going with that adult. 

So when you are taking accurate data, we can look to see if another adult or peer is the common person involved which would also give us a clue that this could be attention seeking. 

When you are analyzing that ABC data, it almost will always point to attention-seeking behaviors because most consequences in a special education classroom is likely going to be delivered in a way that has other options for that child. 

Starve the Behavior and Replace it!

How will we begin to address attention-seeking behaviors? I want you to first starve the behavior and then replace it.   We want to ignore the problem behavior and replace that behavior with something positive and pro-social.  

As special education teachers, we understand that there is a deficit that needs to be addressed.  We need to teach the missing skills that this problem behavior is showing us.  

This intervention has two pieces and they need to happen simultaneously.

Planned Ignoring

We want to reduce the attention to the problem behavior, which might look a lot like planned ignoring.  You are not giving any attention to the problem behavior.  You are not ignoring the child, just the behavior.  When the child is not engaged in that problem behavior, you are showing them with attention!!!

For example,  if Johnny is ripping up his paper while doing his morning work, I simply would just keep on doing what I was doing and not show any interest in the disruptive, destructive behavior.  Then when Johnny stopped,  I would shower him with all the attention!

how to teach a child to say no when they are having a behavior

 Using a Time out

This could also look like a timeout. Timeouts have gotten such a bad reputation, but when used appropriately they can work.  All you are doing is removing the attention from that behavior. 

For example, if a student is misbehaving, you can simply turn your back on the student, and I would consider this a time out.  We are not giving any attention to the behavior.   You could always walk away from their desk and return after a few minutes, giving them a break and you again, are not giving them the attention. 

For example, Johnny is ripping up his morning work.  You walk away from him for a few minutes and come back and continue to work on it with him.  He continues to rip it up, so you walk away and come back.  As soon as he STOPS ripping the paper is when you start giving him positive attention.  

Replacing the Behavior

When you are thinking about replacing the problem behavior you have to remember that the behavior has to be easier and more efficient than the behavior they are doing.  If the replacement behavior is harder, this intervention will fail.  So to get the student to buy into the replacement behavior you have to show that the new behavior is so much easier.  

For example, if Johnny doesn't want to do morning work and he is continuing to want to rip it up instead, teach him how to hand you a picture that says, “I need a break” or “I don't want to do this”, is easier and more effective than ripping up his morning work. 

Make sure that you are giving the student so much attention every single time they use the new replacement behavior. 

What to do when you can't ignore the behavior?

There will be times when you just can not ignore the behavior.  Either it's dangerous for the staff, the student, or their peers.  For example, if you have a student who elopes, you obviously are not going to ignore them and let them run out of the building.  You have to chase them down and return them to the classroom.  However, what you can do, is reduce the amount of attention that the student receives for the attention-seeking behavior. 

If Johnny runs out, the teacher runs after them, says nothing to them, doesn't even make eye contact, and brings them right back to the room.   The end.  There is no making a big deal over it.  So many teachers will scold the child, talk about the paras in the classroom, talk to the principal about it, and mention it throughout the day.  Think about how all that drama and attention that child is receiving from that.  We want to eliminate that. 

screaming child and trying to bribe them

Attention-seeking behavior is the goal to get any type of interaction with peers or adults.  These types of behaviors are normal behaviors. but we want to work for our kids to be engaged in attention-seeking behaviors that are positive and communicative and move away from attention-seeking behaviors that are negative, disruptive, and dangerous. We want to starve those negative behaviors and replace them with positive ones.  And remember, don't jump in with this intervention right away, make sure that you are taking accurate data to make sure that you know what the function of the behavior is first. 

I am a High School, self-contained Autism teacher from Central New York, who is passionate about individualizing student learning. I am a mommy of three, lover of all things Disney, married to my best friend and addicted to chocolate!! I hope that you find great ideas and inspiration here, so welcome!!

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