Eliminating Attention Seeking Behaviors in Autism

All human beings, especially children, need attention and its common to seek it when we sense that we are not receiving it enough. However, when it comes to the point that you can not focus on anything else because your child is misbehaving to have all your attention it can be problematic and it can lead to worst conducts.

How Do I Know If My Child Is Seeking Attention?

The answer to know if your child is seeking attention is found first in the way you react to it. If your child’s action causes you to react both verbally or physically then your child is effectively getting the attention he is seeking. For example, if your child is having a tantrum, and you tell him/her to stop, and he/she continues with the behavior until you come from the other room, then the negative behavior effectively gained your attention.

The second way to find out if your child is seeking attention is discovered from the childs conduct and response. If they have a genuine need, they will ask for it and stop once its met, but if it is an attention seeking behavior, they will repeat the action after a few minutes.

Attention Seeking Conducts In Autism

Attention Seeking Behaviors (ASB) can be presented in different ways, but the reason behind it is the same, either through positive or negative conducts, the child is screaming for mommys or daddy’s attention. 
The following conducts are examples of ASB in Autistic children:

  • Being way too loud, screaming, dancing, jumping
  • Asking for things way too often (If they are verbal)
  • Pretending they can not do something they are perfectly capable of doing
  • Fake crying
  • Whining
  • Throwing tantrums
  • Acting violently, kicking, biting, or hitting siblings or other children. 
  • Beating themselves, hitting his/her head on things, throwing themselves on the floor, pulling their hair, etc.

Attention Seeking Strategies

The goal of raising our children is to help them become independent while knowing they are important and seen. The following strategies will help you deal with ASB both in the short and long term.

Short-Term Strategies

  • Planned Ignoring Behavior: Planned ignoring is a discipline technique that involves completely ignoring your child’s acts of negative behavior, not even talking to them to call them out. For example,  if you’re having a family meal and your child is bouncing up and down on his/her seat, you can leave them out of the conversation and not look at them until they stop. When they stop, you could say, ‘I love it when you sit still on your chair at dinner. Why don’t you tell us what you did at school today?’. The key is to reward your child with lots of attention when they’re behaving well – but don’t give them any attention when they behave badly. By consistently paying and withholding attention like this, you can help shape your child’s behavior positively. To find out tips to implement the planned ignoring technique visit our blog post Reward Good Behavior, Ignore Bad!.
  • Distracting: In distracting the goal is to change your childs attention towards something else rather than the negative attention seeking behavior. For example, if your child is looking for your attention by fighting with his/her sibling(s) you can re-direct their attention by helping them feel important. You can ask them, “Hey son/daughter, I can not water the plants all by myself. Can you come and help me?”. This way you will re-direct his/her attention from something negative to something they are totally capable of doing and that will give them positive attention and reward. To find out more tips to include your ASD child into the family chores, please visit How To Modify Chores for ASD Children.

Long-Term Strategies:

  • Positive Reinforcement:  Every time your child does something positive, make sure to verbally mention it to create a verbal reward. This long term strategy builds self-esteem in your child while building positive reinforcement of good conducts. After a while, you will notice that your child will naturally behave better while letting bad conducts behind.
  • Complete Attention: Many times as parents it is hard to fully focus on our child while having tons of things to do however, it is important that we make the effort to consciously pay attention to our children when they are talking to us. This kind of practice will make them feel valued and will help you bond and spend quality time with your child. If you are in the middle of a call or, in an unsuitable moment, instead of silencing them, stop for a second and tell your child that you will have a special moment/talk with them after being done with the current task.
  • Quality Time: This is the top long-term strategy. The reason behind seeking attention behaviors is wanting to be seen, and longing to feel important. Quality time is the best tool to help your child feel both. According to psychologists, it is not the same to be physically present than being mind-soul-body present with your child. As with any other relationship, the parent-child relationship needs to be nurtured and built intentionally. Invite your child out for ice cream, ask questions, take him/her to the park, listen to their ideas, and take part/interest in the things that he/she likes. If you have more than one child, take turns individually and invest one-on-one time with them, even 15 minutes can make the whole difference for them. Remember, our children are independent human beings with ideas, interests, and taste of their own, and its our job as parents to get to know them well. 

Be Patient.

Keep in mind that it takes time to build a habit (21 days), but it takes extra time to change a bad habit (2 months). So take a deep breath and remember that you are getting closer to your goal with every action, dont forget that your childs intention (whether behind bad or good conducts) is to have your attention and to feel appreciated, and our goal as parents is to make them feel that way.

At WSCC, we offer support for autistic families and their children with stem cell therapy treatments that can transform autistic conditions by healing the gut, decreasing inflammation and improving brain function. We also created an autistic community on Facebook that is destined to offer support and companionship for ASD parents and their families on their journey.
Remember, you are not alone!