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Handling attention seeking behavior in children with autism

Handling attention seeking behavior in children with autism

Receiving attention is a natural human craving in both adults and children. An attention-seeking behavior arises when a person makes a conscious effort to seek the approval of others. 

While there could be several reasons for attention-seeking behaviors in children with autism, it is important to handle such actions carefully, irrespective of the triggering factors.

Identifying the attention-seeking behavior in children with autism

Before you learn how to manage these behaviors, you must recognize the different ways an attention-seeking behavior may manifest in children with autism. You'll find them doing something they don't usually do, or at least not with the same frequency as normal. They may also repeat the same behavior more than once to get your attention.

Positive behaviors

It's pretty difficult to identify positive attention-seeking behavior if you don't know beforehand. In such situations, you will find your children asking for your help for the simple tasks they could easily do on their own. 

A child with autism may not to know how to perform a certain task. The use of a simple phrase, "Look at me! Look at this!" more often than usual, will hint toward the attention-seeking behavior.

Here's a list of some common positive attention-seeking behaviors:

  • Talking about their achievements over and over again
  • Resharing the stories of good moments 
  • Exaggerating the incidents that happened
  • Asking for help in routine tasks
  • Bragging about themselves 
  • Talking less frequently or being quiet most of the time

Negative behaviors

Parents often confuse negative attention-seeking behavior with misbehavior. The key differentiating feature is the intensity and frequency of these behaviors. If a child repeats a bad behavior with enhanced aggression, it is most likely a negative attention-seeking behavior. 

Following are a few examples:

  • Fighting with siblings without a specific cause
  • Shouting, crying, or yelling without any reason
  • Throwing something at you and smiling
  • Hitting other children 
  • Raising their voice
  • Interrupting a conversation
  • Slamming doors
  • Harming themselves or others

Strategies to manage the attention-seeking behaviors

While the positive behaviors may be subtle, dealing with negative, also known as dysfunctional, attention-seeking behaviors can become a great challenge. Handling attention-seeking behavior in children with autism requires both long-term and short-term strategies. 

You'll need preventive and pre-planned, reactive techniques, which can be applied before and when the behavior appears.

Long-term preventive techniques

Below we will talk about some strategies you should apply in your routine to lower the chances of a child with autism, expressing an attention-seeking behavior. These long-term preventive techniques can even eradicate such behaviors.

1. Share quality time together

One of the best ways to make your child feel good is to spend quality time together. It’s important to make an effort to dedicate time solely to your child. If you have more than one child with autism, make sure each child gets individual quality time. Giving one-on-one time to each child makes sure they will feel seen and heard.

This time doesn't have to be several hours. It can be as short as thirty minutes per day. The only secret here is consistency. Your children will look forward to it when you make arrangements for this special time, at the same time, every day. During this time, both of you can do any activity that they are interested in or you can use the time to simply chat about what they like.

2. Offer focused attention

With so many tasks around to be done, sometimes it's difficult for a parent to offer focused attention to their children. That's why it's essential to be mentally and physically present with them. When your child knows that they are the sole center of your attention, they will feel relaxed. 

Receiving undivided attention reduces the symptoms of hyperactivity and lowers anxiety arising from attention deficiency. If you're busy at the moment, take at least a few minutes to explain to them why you are not available to listen to them right away. It will clear time limits and set boundaries about what to expect and when. 

3. Establish open communication in routine

Listening and talking to your child makes them feel understood. That's how communication can replace attention with connection. A child who feels connected with their parents is less likely to manifest attention-seeking behaviors.

You can also use this strategy when you notice the particular behavior. Ask your child if they know what's going on, and then politely explain why you will not appreciate this bad behavior and that they are still loved and appreciated.

4. Praise your child for positive behavior

Praising your child for their positive behavior can help shift their focus if their positive behavior is getting them attention. 

Verbally praising your child and rewarding good behavior can help set a pattern of positive reinforcement that may eventually help your child shift from negative attention-seeking behaviors to positive ones.

5. Engage your child in household chores

Engaging your child in household duties can help them learn skills at home and keep them occupied. Teaching your child how to contribute in house duties can help enhance their self-confidence and in turn reduce attention-seeking behaviors.

Some household chores you can help your child with are watering the plants, folding or putting away laundry, emptying the dishwasher, or even organizing their toys. 

Reactive short-term techniques

Now, we will walk you through three ways you can handle attention-seeking behaviors in the heat of the moment. 

1. Ignore the bad behavior

Simply ignoring your child's negative behaviors, despite having a strong urge to call them out, can be very difficult. As a parent, you might be trapped in self-blame for not 'correcting' your child's bad behavior or supporting them through a difficult episode.

You might find it hard to withhold your attention during that time. Ignoring bad behavior may reduce your child’s urge to display the bad behavior if they are seeing it is not getting them attention. It’s important to note that ignoring bad behavior is ok as long as your child is safe and not causing harm to themselves or others.

Giving your child any attention at that moment can encourage your child to continue the bad behavior.

2. Use a distraction technique

Redirecting attention from the issue to something your child likes to do can temporarily stop the bad behavior. Keeping note of what works for your child in these instances can help prepare you for future episodes. 

3. Keep calm, and give yourself time

Being patient with handling attention-seeking behaviors in children with autism is super important. Don't forget to take a few deep breaths and remind yourself to be gentle with yourself and your child. Remember, you are breaking a pattern and building a habit! It may take you months to wait for the results you desire. 

It’s also important to work with your child’s care team to help develop techniques that will help you and your child in these situations

You may not see the progress every other day, but you'll see how far you've come, one day! 

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