A is for Attention

We are on the of SEATis for attention!

If you’re a little confused and don’t know what we’re talking about please refer to old blog posts. If you have questions for me, please don’t hesitate to comment and ask below. My goal is to make this as clear and as simple as possible. I tried avoiding the technical language and making it more general, but it’s definitely been hard… So yes, ask away, if you need anything better explained.

Attention seeking behaviors. I’d say everyone does this to a certain degree. So when we talk about decreasing attention seeking behaviors, we’re talking about the ones that get in the way of functioning effectively —whether it be socially, academically, or occupationally. We’re talking about all forms of attention: giving eye contact, talking to the person, gesturing to the person, even indirect attention (talking about the person while they can hear you talking about them).

Let me give you some examples from my own personal experience (of course, these are not their real names):

  1. When Haley’s mother leaves the playroom to do chores (A), Haley throws her toys at the wall (B). Haley’s mother then comes back the playroom and tells Haley, “We don’t do that to our toys.” (C)
  2. When Jason’s father gets a phone call (A), Jason starts screaming in a high pitched voice (B). Jason’s father gives Jason a “look” (the ‘you’re in trouble’ look), and shushes him (C).
  3. When Eddy and his mother are the grocery store (A), Eddy pulls his mother’s hair (B). Eddy’s mother puts his hand down and gives him a kiss (C).

Refer to the post The ABCs for a better overview of what antecedent, behavior, consequence mean and how to record them. 

It’s clear that what maintains the attention seeking behavior is attention. For example 1, Haley’s rewarded since Mom comes back to check on her. In example 2, Jason’s rewarded since Dad gives Jason eye contact and shushes him. Yes, giving “the you’re in trouble look,” shushing, putting a kiddo in timeout are all forms of attention, even if we assume the kiddo would decrease what they’re doing since they’re getting in trouble. If the primary function is to gain attention, these things don’t matter, they already gained your attention. In our last example, the maintaining consequence is Mom giving Eddy a kiss, assuming that Mom withdrew eye contact while putting Eddy’s hand down.

What do we do to decrease these attention seeking tactics?

To prevent the attention seekers from attention seeking:

  1. Give your person attention noncontingently. Noncontingen—-wha? Let’s break the word down. Noncontingently. Not contingent on anything happen. So let’s say every 15 minutes, you’re going to come up to your person and hug, kiss, compliment, tickle, cuddle, play, dance, sing, do anything with your person. Ya know, give them attention despite of what’s happening. Ideally, of course, you don’t want to pair this with problem behavior.
  2. What does your person like? What are they interested in talking about? Do what they like with them, talk about what they want to talk about… Get to know them. Building rapport, having a bond with your person is key. I mean, who wants to listen to someone that has their way all the time?
  3. Catch your person asking for attention appropriately. Acknowledge them saying, “Excuse me,” them waiting, them respecting your space. Notice the good.
  4. Teach your person how to ask for attention appropriately. Maybe they just don’t know how?

What about when the attention seeking is already happening:

  1. Withdraw all forms of attention, if possible. If the attention seeking behavior involves serious self injury, of course it’s not feasible to just ignore the behavior. Make sure your person is safe first. If you need to prompt, prompt from behind, withdraw words, and redirect to a safe place.
  2. Another option is to prompt appropriate words/phrases to seek attention and give attention specifically acknowledging that it was the appropriate words/phrases that got your attention. For example, if your person is biting you for attention, withdraw eye contact while your person is biting, use a visual/verbal prompt and have your person say, “Excuse me, Mom” (or to whoever they’re seeking attention from), and say something like, “I hear you, what is it?”

And that’s a wrap.





We recorded what’s happening before and after the behavior we want to work on (if you don’t know what I’m talking about refer to blog post: The ABCs). After assessing our notes, the data, whatever you want to call it, you find that the function of the behavior is to escape something or someone.

Yes, we are talking about the E in SEAT. Escape! 

Check out the recorded ABC data for Johnny:

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 9.15.34 PM

According to this: When a cue to transition (like the school bell), an instruction, and/or a non-preferred food is presented, Johnny will walk away from the non-preferred place/item and/or vocalize protests to the person giving an instruction.

If you want to be more specific as far as definition goes: When a cue to transition (like the school bell), an instruction (like “Do your homework”), and/or a non-preferred food (like baby carrots) is presented, Johnny will take at least 2 steps away from the non-preferred place/item and/or vocalize protests to the person giving an instruction. *This is how your behavior team (if you have one) tracks data, by making these behaviors clear and measurable. That’s right. It’s not subjective, and it’s definitely not guess work. 

Some common antecedents or triggers to this behavior include:

  • being given an instruction the person does not want to do
  • being placed in a situation the person does not want to be in
  • hearing a cue that’s been paired with something/someplace/someone the person doesn’t want to be around
  • when transitioning from one thing to another

Basically, being placed in any type of aversive situation to the person of interest.

Makes sense, right? Well, a common consequence that keeps the escape behavior going is letting the person escape the aversive situation or giving the person more time to do whatever they’re already doing before having to deal with the aversive situation.

So, what can we do to decrease the escape behavior? 

Let’s start with the preventatives:

  1. Arrange the environment so that the learner has a hard time escaping. If you have a learner that bolts every time you tell them, “It’s time to work,” you can easily arrange where you’re sitting to make that a little more difficult for them. I’m not saying block them off completely using barriers or what not, we need to make sure we’re still abiding by what’s ethical when doing this.
  2. Give transitional cues. If you were on an Instagram binge and I just snatch your phone away from you, how unhappy would you be? Let your learner know that they have x amount of minutes, then it’s time to move on. If you’re learner is non-verbal, try a visual cue.
  3. Catch them doing well, recognize them, and praise them. Don’t get caught up with the bad behaviors. Notice the good too.
  4. Build rapport and get to know what your learner is into. Pair yourself with what they’re into by playing with the toys they like, watching the shows they like with them, build that bond.
  5. Set up a routine if you can, and ease the work in gradually. Build your learner’s confidence with easy work tasks, and build up from there.

If the escape behavior’s already happening here’s what can be done:

  1. The big one is really to follow-through. Help them follow-through, if needed, without giving attention to the escape behavior. What I mean by this is, if your learner bolts away from the work area, guide them back to the work helping minimally as possible without any words, and follow-through with the given instruction.
  2. Block access from rewards (if the reward is attention, withdraw eye contact, physical contact unless you’re guiding them back to the work area) until your learner has followed through with the given demand.

As always, remember to keep in mind that we need to work ethically. Put yourself in your learner’s shoes and plan accordingly.

For the Sensory Seekers and Avoiders

After writing out your ABCs (see my last post if you think I’m talking about the alphabet), and determining the function(s) behind the behaviors you’re interested in changing, it’s time to make a plan for each function of the behaviors. Remember: We’re trying to make long-lasting change. Long-lasting change requires time and strategy. That’s why we need to make a behavior plan.

Back to functions. Let’s review: There are 4 possible functions to a behavior: SEAT.  Or better explained: 1) Sensory/Automatic- to fulfill a sensory need or to gain automatic fulfillment (like biting our nails as a way to cope with being anxious), 2) Escape – to escape something/someone, 3) Attention – to gain attention, and 4) Tangible – to get something out of it (like an object, money, etc.)

So, let’s start with the S, sensory-seeking or sensory-avoiding behaviors or behaviors seeking automatic reinforcement… 

There are 2 different types of strategies: 1) preventative strategies and 2) what needs to happen when the problematic behavior is already happening.

When it comes to sensory-seeking or sensory-avoiding behaviors, the learner is trying to gain an internal sensation that’s pleasing or to remove an internal sensation that’s displeasing.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 9.37.19 PM

These behaviors are tough to decrease since the reward is internal and automatic. The learner performs these behaviors regardless of where they are or who they’re with. The best way to decrease sensory-seeking or sensory-avoiding behaviors is to load up on preventative strategies.

Some preventative strategies include:

  1. Try to set up/enrich the environment. For sensory seekers- Maybe it’s with music, colors, toys, and/or opportunities to engage in activities. You can try bean bag chairs (it’s like a chair that hugs), a swing, set up a ball pit, get a trampoline (other forms of exercise), play tile mats, teething toys (if appropriate and if chewing on non-food items is an issue), squishy balls, water beads (if you’re up for the clean up), etc. For sensory avoiders- it can be setting up a quiet place for them to relax, maybe somewhere dim.
  2. Create opportunities for the kiddo to engage in these activities. It’s so easy to get up in the everyday hustle. Try to set aside time for the kiddo to be able to play and fulfill their senses appropriately throughout the day. If they love the outdoors, make time for them to be able to be outside.
  3. Catch your kiddo seeking out appropriate ways to fulfill their senses, and give them a cuddle, a tickle, a smile, a compliment, whatever you can to let them know you recognize what they’re doing.
  4. Teach your kiddo how to request for appropriate sensory activities.
  5. Do these activities with your kiddo. Pair yourself with what they love and teaching becomes a lot easier.

Some strategies when the problematic sensory seeking or sensory avoiding behavior is happening:

  1. Block any intense or major behaviors. If a kiddo is hitting hard to gain a physical sensation, definitely be prepared to block them. I’ve worked with a child strong enough to throw furniture (a 12 year old, a preteen, if you want specifics),  and we definitely had to rearrange his room to prevent him from gaining access to loose furniture.
  2. Refrain from giving attention to mild behaviors, wait until the kiddo is quiet or not engaging in the problematic sensory seeking/avoiding behavior, and redirect to an appropriate sensory activity.

I hope this helps you. Whether you’re preparing to write one for your own client, or for your own child, let me know how it goes. Let me know what worked and what didn’t. Like I said up there, sensory behaviors are tough, because the reward is internal. Be patient with yourself, and plan ahead. Next up, escape/avoidance behaviors. 

The ABCs

“I can’t get him to sit down for more than 5 minutes.”
“Whenever I try to get her to do something, she pretends like she doesn’t hear me or she just runs away.”
“I can’t teach him to do anything, because he doesn’t want to listen to me.”
Sound familiar? Yes, parents, I hear you and 100% agree that this is a problem.

Cue number 2 from my previous post: Assess any interfering behaviors that may prevent learning effectively. How exactly do we do this? Let me tell you…

It’s natural to over-focus on the problematic behavior, because well, who isn’t stressed out if their child is screaming, kicking, dropping to the floor? (I applaud you, calm parents, you’re doing the most to keep that zen.) So, from here on out, I want you to be aware of this. It is natural that the “bad behavior” is highlighted in our head. Acknowledge it, soak it in, and take a breath. It will get better, just make sure you give yourself the time and consistency to get there. The main goal of this assessment is to find the reason or function behind that problematic behavior. There are 4 possible functions to a behavior: SEAT.  Or better explained: 1) Sensory/Automatic- to fulfill a sensory need or to gain automatic fulfillment (like biting our nails as a way to cope with being anxious), 2) Escape – to escape something/someone, 3) Attention – to gain attention, and 4) Tangible – to get something out of it (like an object, money, etc.) This is what needs to happen.

Step 1: Make a table with 3 columns. The only reason mine’s typed out is so that you can clearly see what I wrote, and so that you’re not caught up questioning my handwriting. This can be on the back of your grocery receipt, your phone, anything accessible that you’re not going to lose. You can technically do it mentally, but it won’t be as effective cause it’s easy to forget the details. From left to right, label your columns A, B, and C, like mine below.
Screen Shot 2018-09-06 at 10.08.13 AM
FYI, in case you were wondering: A stands for antecedent. It means what’s happening right before the behavior. What triggered the BB stands for behavior. Record what you see happening. Be as specific as you can. C stands for consequence, what happened right after the B. Be honest about the consequence. I know we don’t want to admit that we gave our kiddo what she wanted after she cried and whined about it, but it is what it is. Write it down. No cheating.

So, now that you have that… 

Step 2: Record our ABCs and find out the possible reason behind these Bs. Here’s a sample.

Screen Shot 2018-09-05 at 6.16.56 PM

Want to do it for the whole day? Here’s how that might look like.

Screen Shot 2018-09-05 at 6.28.20 PM

For the whole dayers, you might find a pattern over time that certain Bs are happening in a particular place or a particular time of day. Highlight those, as they are just as important as finding the function or the reason behind the Bs.

and that’s how we find the reasons or functions behind these behaviors. You may find that some behaviors have more than 1 function, and that’s completely fine. Note them and let’s plan it out. Now what? We need a behavior plan. We replace these behaviors that can help the learner be more successful. How do we do that? Stick around for my next few posts discussing tips and techniques on tackling behaviors for each function.

Let me know how your assessment goes. I’m curious to hear from your own experiences, and what functions you were able to find. Let me know if there were some bumps along the way, and we can problem solve together. Good luck! (Mostly on remembering to not get caught up on the behavior when it’s happening, and to write down the dang thing.)

Unraveling the Anxious Child – Assess the Stress

We’re not just talking about the anxious child. We’re talking about the angry, obsessed, stressed, and/or depressed. Though I work with children typically 15 years old or younger, and though this post is geared towards children, this can easily be any teen or adult. With that said, let’s begin. Like other successful conquests, there needs to be a plan, and of course, proper assessment.

  1. Assess if your learner is ready.
    Talking about emotions is tough, especially if -developmentally- the kiddo is just not there yet. So before probing different techniques, ask yourself if your learner has the language skills to have ‘feelings’ discussions (at least about 6 years old), and/or reading skills to understand written material or visuals you may use. If you’re dealing with a group of people, are your learners ready to learn in a group setting? If not, consider teaching 1:1 and prepare them from there.
  2. Assess any interfering behaviors that may prevent learning effectively.
    Is your learner able to attend to you for at least 5 minutes? Do they attempt to escape when you transition them to work (talk? do anything, really)? Are their certain words that may trigger them to protest? We would need to work on these behaviors to make sure they’re able to learn effectively. What’s happening immediately before and after these behaviors? Is it for escape, attention, to gain something, like a toy? Is there a sensory aspect to it?
  3. Assess your learner’s thoughts. 
  4. How in the world do you assess someone’s thoughts if you can’t see thoughts? Here’s a way: Learn how they learn. Pay attention to the way they talk or write. How do they process, store, and apply information? What are their thinking strengths and areas of need? We need to figure this all out.
    Consider these:
    – There are things we learn automatically, without being conscious of learning them, like learning how to ride a bike. Other things we learn by making effortful responses, like solving an algebra problem. Some learners with ASD may struggle with implicit/automatic learning. Do they need more explicit instruction? Do we need to break it down in steps?
    – How’s their attention like? Do they tend to over-focus on small details? Is it hard to look at the big picture?
    – When you’re talking to them, do they get caught up in the words? Is it easier for them to learn with a visual?
    – This is a big one. How are their organizational skills? Do they have problems initiating? How are there planning or sequencing skills? How do they deal with transitions? Do they tend to be flexible with change?
    – Are they able to see others’ perspectives? Do they understand that others may have different beliefs from their own (oh ya know, theory of mind)?
    – Is there a sensory factor that’s preventing them learn or cope? Do they tend to over or understimulated by their environment?
    Consider these and note your learner’s strengths and weaknesses. If you’re not sure, probe tests or interview others that may know them better. If you’re assessing yourself, keep it real and write down what you need to improve on. Start there before anything else. Remember, simple before complex.
  1. After considering all of these, gather all your notes. Review what you have. Start working on improving the interfering behaviors preventing your learner to be effective. Remember, these behaviors don’t have to be zeroed out, just decreased enough to be effective. Then, work on strengthening those skill deficits. Working on anything new or difficult can be frustrating. Give your learner a confidence boost by including easy tasks. Highlight their strengths while you teach. Show them some love, and find out what will motivate them to keep going. Be creative and have fun with it. (Yes, still find motivating things and have fun with it if you’re assessing and creating a technique for yourself! This is very important!)

    In the next couple of posts, I’ll be exploring teaching options that may help. If you have a specific scenario or situation you’d like to throw at me, let’s open the discussion and comment below.


Hi, peeps.


Thanks for dropping by, reading, and showing some love. I’m Maria, based in California. I’m a mama, a behavior analyst, and a mental health advocate (that enjoys puns and corny jokes, as you’ll soon find out). As a behavior analyst, I work with families and children with autism, currently via telehealth, and formerly in their own homes. I love what I do, so I decided to start a blog to better reach out to any of those struggling with mental health/behavioral issues. Though my specialty is working with individuals with autism, this blog will explore other facets of mental health, as I’ve also ridden my own mental health rollercoaster. Aside from mental health, this blog also explores my journey as a parent, and some lifestyle hacks that I’ve discovered along the way. I’ll be sharing some of my own experiences, and if you’re up for it, feel free to submit and talk about your own.