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


Soren is a student of mine that I see for two hours everyday in his home. I use the methods of Applied Behavior Analysis to work with him as he has been diagnosed as having autism. After a week of getting to know Soren a little, playing with his toys and just being very informal, it was time to sit down and begin structured programs. Soren did well at first. He was responsive to instruction, and had little trouble sitting still and adhering to the task at hand. A problem arose when Soren was faced with a task he found difficult. He would get very frustrated and begin to throw things off the table, push the table over and hit me. At first, I picked up everything he had dropped and physically prompted him to put his hands down when he would hit me. After this behavior continued, I realized I needed a different strategy.


I decided to use the ignoring behavior technique since I believed Soren was displaying these behaviors as a way of avoiding tasks and getting my attention directed towards something else. When he threw things off the table, I looked away instead of reacting. When he knocked the table over, I moved out of the way and let him do it. When he hit me, I looked him right in the eyes and didn’t react at all.


This technique worked great! I not only ignored the behavior, but when he made the mess, I made him clean it up. I praised him as he cleaned it up saying that I liked the way he cleaned up his mess. Having him clean it up made him aware that he is responsible for his actions. He detested cleaning and after a few times of making a mess and cleaning up, he realized what he would have to do if he made the mess again. The most dramatic behavior change came when I ignored his hitting. It was apparent that he was doing for attention once I saw his reaction to my ignoring his hitting. When he hit me, I looked him right in the eyes and did nothing. He hit me again, and I ignored him. He hit me harder (escalation) and then looked at me as if he was waiting for a reaction. When he didn’t get a reaction he began to cry and threw himself on the floor for about 3 minutes and continued to cry. He then sat back in his chair and hit me lightly like the first time he hit me. When I didn’t react, he looked at me, and then turned his chair towards the table and tried to work on the puzzle he was having trouble putting together. He reached for my hand and put it on the puzzle as if asking for help. I immediately praised him for seeking help by saying, “I like the way you showed me that you needed help”.


Soren hasn’t turned over his table, thrown anything on the floor or tried to hit me since that day. I believe that ignoring his behavior (as well as making him clean up his mess) worked because he wasn’t getting the negative reinforcement that he wanted (avoidance of task). When I cleaned up his mess, the attention was taken off him and put on his mess; therefore he didn’t have to engage in the task at hand. When I prompted him to put his hands down, we began a battle of (Soren) putting up hands and being prompted down. This battle went on for long periods of time and usually ended up in changing the task at hand. By keeping my attention on Soren and off of his distracting behaviors, it made him realize that he wasn’t able to avoid doing his work. He then figured out a way to ask for help instead of figuring out ways to avoid the task.


Written by Tamar Kadosh


Click to shut autism information fact sheet on tactical ignoring

Reproduced from Behavior Advisor with permission.
Click here for the full range of Asperger's and autism fact sheets and personal stories at www.autism-help.org

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.