TACTICAL IGNORING AS A
Children with autism
syndrome may sometimes display challenging behaviors in order
to receive our attention or to gain a reaction. It has been noted
that often, the child is not concerned if the attention is negative
or positive in nature, as long as it is provided. Behaviors such
as these require a dual strategy approach, often involving tactical
ignoring, particularly in dealing with tantrums.
Tactical ignoring can be one element of a behavior management plan.
As such, it is a method of responding to a behavior, complimented
by a positive reinforcement schedule and skill development in learning
a more appropriate method of seeking attention.
What is tactical ignoring?
Tactical ignoring is a strategy where you give
no outward sign of recognizing a behavior (e.g. no eye contact,
no verbal response, no physical response). However, you are aware
of the behavior occurring, and you monitor the child to ensure their
safety and the safety of others. Often, you will be able to continue
with a conversation with others without acknowledging the attention-seeking
How is tactical ignoring used?
Firstly, the individual is displaying a behavior
which is communicating a message. This message, the need for attention
or to gain a reaction, requires a response. The aim is to provide
the child with positive and quality attention for displaying appropriate
behaviors, or for not displaying the desired behavior. When the
child displays the desired behavior in order to gain attention,
it may be appropriate to tactically ignore the behavior. This strategy
uses the same foundation as that underlying Positive
Behavior Support and Applied
Behavior Analysis in that positive behavior is encouraged with
reinforcement, and unwanted behaviors are discouraged with ignoring
or negative reinforcement.
Which behaviors suit this strategy?
In some cases, an autistic child's behavior occurs
as a way of getting attention so the best strategy may be to ignore
it. The pleasant consequence of the behavior is getting attention.
When this is removed, the behavior will eventually cease. While
tactical ignoring may be used in conjunction with other techniques
in a wide variety of situations, it is most commonly effective in
responding to swearing, yelling and sulking.
How does this differ from simply ignoring someone?
Tactical ignoring involves five main elements:
• You are aware that the behavior is occurring
• You continue to monitor the behavior and the individual to ensure
• The behavior is recorded as an attempt to gain your attention
• Interaction with the child may continue but without reacting to
the unwanted behavior
• Tactical ignoring is a strategy for a child to learn appropriate
methods of gaining attention.
In most cases, we simply ignore someone to block them out, or as
Tactical ignoring is carefully thought through, and aims to influence
behavior for the better over the long term. It operates on the assumption
that the person in question receives positive attention when their
behavior is appropriate.
The need for consistency with tactical ignoring
As with any behavioral management strategy, parents
and extended family members need to adopt a consistent approach
to applying tactical ignoring. The behavior will often worsen temporarily
as the child realizes the attention-seeking behavior has stopped
tactical ignoring paired with positive reinforcement
As with many of these techniques, ignoring behavior
is best linked with positive reinforcement. An example is when a
child is throwing a tantrum to seek attention. In this case, a comforting
hug or even a scolding gets the attention desired. However, the
parent ignores the tantrum. When it has stopped, the child is immediately
rewarded with praise, a treat or favorite activity. It pays to be
very specific with positive reinforcement: "It's great when
you are quiet" instead of "Good boy!"
Always label the behavior you are praising. “Good
girl” is very vague; “I like how you picked up your jacket” is specific.
For more information see the Positive
reinforcement fact sheet.
Click here for the full
range of Asperger's and autism fact sheets at www.autism-help.org
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