It’s not always good to ignore behavior!

Many parents of children with autism that we’ve worked with over the years, have told us that they try to reduce tantrums and other problem behaviors by simply ignoring them.  There are many strategies for reducing behavior, but it’s critical to find the function of the behavior that one is attempting to reduce.

There are four main reasons as to why a person behaves the way they do:

  • Gain access to a particular object or event.  
  • Escape from an undesired situation
  • Attention
  • Sensory stimulation/automatic reinforcement

A person’s behavior can be traced back to any of these four functions, regardless of whether he or she has a clinical diagnosis.  Once the function of the behavior is determined, it will be easier to identify an appropriate strategy for reducing the undesired behavior.  In a situation where attention is the function of the inappropriate behavior, one strategy might be to ignore the behavior. However, if the function of the behavior is not attention, then ignoring the behavior would not be a good option.  

Another problem with simply ignoring a behavior is that it doesn’t teach the child what behavior is expected of him.  Consider an example of a child who wants to gain attention and throws a tantrum in order to achieve this outcome. Ignoring this behavior won’t teach the child the expected, appropriate behavior, which could consist of tapping on his parent’s shoulder and saying “excuse me.”  When attempting to reduce or eliminate a behavior, it’s always advantageous to also identify a replacement behavior to teach the child—one that will allow the child to achieve the same outcome, but in a more appropriate manner.


Consult A Behavior Specialist

If you want to reduce or eliminate a problem behavior, we highly recommend consulting with an experienced behavior specialist to determine an individualized strategy based on the specific needs of your child.  Children can engage in a wide array of problem behaviors. For those seeking further guidance and general strategies to better address them, we recommend reading chapter 9 in the book, Success on the Spectrum: How to Teach Skills to Individuals with Autism.  This chapter presents commonly observed problem behaviors and some general strategies that might be used to address them.

For additional information regarding Partington Behavior Analysts, AFLS, or ABLLS-R, see our products tab above.


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