Fact sheet: information on creating a behavior management program fora child with Autism, a common Autism Spectrum Disorder


Children with autism or Asperger's 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 behavior.


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 positive 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 safety
• 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 punishment. 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 working.


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.


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Children with Autism or Asperger's syndrome may sometimes display challenging behaviors such as tantrums in order to receive our attention or to gain a reaction.