Attention Seeking Behaviours... Maybe?

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Tip of the Month:
March, 2010

John is 9 and has a diagnosis of ASD with sensory integrative dysfunction. In class, he frequently runs around the room and squeals, calls out during lessons, hums loudly and grabs things from other students. He is academically capable. His teacher feels many of his behaviours are “attention seeking” and unrelated to his ASD. At another school Sam, aged 8, who also has ASD and average intellectual abilities frequently “steals” and then “lies”, fabricates stories and runs away when confronted. Like John, Sam’s teachers and the school administrator tend to see his behaviours as “attention seeking” at best, “manipulative and deceitful” at worst.

This month’s tip provides some guidelines for figuring out why John, Sam and students like them may be engaging in these behaviours. Next month, we’ll provide tips for reducing these challenging behaviours and developing more positive behaviours.

Tip 1: Look for patterns. Collect information on where, when and with whom the “attention seeking” behaviours occur. Do they occur more frequently during certain activities or when certain tasks are required?

Tip 2: Assess the demands that may be part of activities or situations in which the behaviours are more likely to occur. Remember that for students with ASD the social complexities of a situation may be more demanding for them than the academic learning. Situations with a lot of sensory stimulation can also be quite demanding for some of our students.

Tip 3: Analyze the resulting behaviours of others when the student engages in the challenging behaviours. Do his actions tend to result in a consistent type of response (e.g. time out, removal of privileges, increased one to one support or supervision).

Tip 4: If your “gut” says the behaviours are related to a desire for attention, ask yourself if the student gets enough positive attention from others, including peers, during his day.

Although a Functional Behaviour Assessment may be necessary to help figure out what is going on with students with significant, long standing challenging behaviours, sometimes the answers to why a student is seeking attention in ways we feel are inappropriate can be ascertained by collecting some data and answering a few simple questions.

For more information on understanding challenging behaviours and how ASD differences can contribute to the development of these behaviours, check out the following elearning lessons on our website:

The website developed by the Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice provides a 15 question profile that teachers can download to help in determining whether a problem behaviour is likely to be more related to a desire for attention, escape from non- preferred tasks or a setting event. The sample and blank copies of the questionnaire can be found at the appendix on their site.

You may also find the following books helpful:

Click here to view our archived tips of the month.