OTHER STRATEGIES FOR
From Attention and Behavior Problems
by Stephen M. Edelson, Ph.D.
Center for the Study of Autism, Salem, Oregon
One reason why some autistic individuals engage
problems is to obtain attention. That is, they may have learned
that by ‘acting up,’ they will receive some form of attention (i.e.,
reinforcement). Even though the attention given to them may be negative,
such as a caretaker saying ‘Stop that,’ the child may still interpret
the interaction as positive.
If a person tends to receive attention following
a behavior problem, then the caretaker should do his/her best to
the behavior. If this is not possible because the person may hurt
him-/herself or others, then the caretaker should minimize contact
with the individual while displaying little or no facial expression
(neither approving nor disapproving). Consistency is very important
because the behavior problem will continue if the individual receives
intermittent attention for the behavior. In fact, the behavior will
be stronger and more resistant to extinction if intermittently reinforced.
Several behavioral strategies have been developed
to provide attention to an individual but not contingent on the
behavior problem. These strategies include:
Differential Reinforcement of Appropriate Behavior (DRA)
The person receives attention to an appropriate
behavior (determined in advance). For example, if the person works
on a specific task for a certain amount of time and does not engage
in the behavior problem, then he/she is given positive attention.
Differential Reinforcement of Other Behavior (DRO)
Attention is provided to the person for any appropriate
behavior. For example, if the person acts, in general, appropriately
during a certain period of time and does not engage in the behavior
problem, 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 the person, who is known
to tantrum, sits quietly for a certain amount of time, then he/she
is given positive attention.
It is important to conduct a functional analysis
of the person's behavior problem in order to determine whether the
behavior serves to obtain attention or occurs for some other reason
(e.g., to avoid a demanding situation). The information obtained
from a functional analysis should include: Who was present? What
happened before, during and after the behavior? When did it happen?
and Where did it happen?
Attention is important for social development,
and it is natural for a person to seek attention from others. Thus,
individuals with autism and other related disorders should receive
attention, but the attention should not be contingent on a behavior
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