Some autistic children engage in behavior problems because they’ve learned that by ‘acting up,’ they will receive some form of attention, i.e., reinforcement. Even if the attention is negative, such as a caretaker saying, ‘Stop that,’ the child might still interpret the interaction as positive.
If a child has been getting attention following a behavior problem, the caretaker should do their best to ignore the behavior, unless the child might hurt someone; then the caretaker should minimize contact with the child without displaying approval or disapproval. Consistency is important because the behavior problem will continue if the child receives intermittent attention for the behavior; i.e., it will be more resistant to extinction if intermittently reinforced.
Behavioral strategies have been developed to provide a child with attention that is not contingent on the behavior problem. These strategies include:
*Differential Reinforcement of Appropriate Behavior (DRA) - The child receives attention for an appropriate behavior, determined in advance. For example, if the child works on a predetermined task for a certain amount of time without engaging in the problem behavior, then he/she is given positive attention.
*Differential Reinforcement of Other Behavior (DRO) - Attention is given to the child for any appropriate behavior. For example, if the child in general acts appropriately during a certain period of time without engaging in the problem behavior, then he/she is given positive attention.
*Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behavior (DRI) - Attention is given to behaviors that are incompatible with the behavior problem. For example, if a child who is known to tantrum sits quietly for a certain amount of time, then he/she is given positive attention.
*Functional analysis. It is important to analyze the function of the person's behavior problem in order to determine whether it serves to get attention. or some other purpose, e.g., to avoid a demanding situation. The information obtained for functional analysis includes: Who was present? What happened before, during and after the behavior? When did it happen? Where did it happen?
Attention is important for social development, and it is natural for a person to seek attention from others. People with autism and other related disorders should receive attention, but it should not be contingent on behavior problems.