Delivering Social Attention Appropriately

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Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) with multiple years' hands-on experience developing and implementing behavior change programs.

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Haden Hunt.

Hey guys, it’s Haden with ALABs. And today we’re going to be talking about what social attention looks like and how it can be delivered appropriately in different settings.

How does Michael respond to social attention?

Mike Carr.

Well, Michael loves social attention, right? So he does seek it out, and it’s with other people he doesn’t even know. So like, if we’re walking on the trail and he sees a cute gal, he doesn’t know exactly what to do, but he’ll walk over to her and just sort of stand there, and then she’s sort of like, okay, what’s going on? Right? Then we have to come up and explain. So he likes the interaction of just someone looking at him.

When he’s on a basketball court, he likes the high fives, like, gimme that high five! And every time he makes a shot, he wants a high five… and if he misses a shot, he wants a high five. It makes no difference, right? He just wants that interaction.

And then at night, if we’re watching TV and we’re not paying attention to him, he’ll stand right in front of you so you cannot watch the TV set. And then if you move this way, he’ll move right in front of you, too. And then if you still don’t give him attention, he’ll start pounding on your knee like, hey hey. And then finally you’ll stand up and hug him or something and play with him for a little bit, and he’s fine. But he does definitely seek out social attention from anyone that’s around.

When is it appropriate to give Michael social attention?

Mike Carr.

Well, I think the biggest thing that’s normal and that he appreciates is just talking to him. And I mean, actually talking to him and asking him questions and talking about what’s fixing to happen. I think he understands a lot more than obviously he can say back to you because he’s typically nonverbal. So if you’re talking to him, “Hey, Michael, we’re going to go do this. Would you like to go do this?” like a normal person, he really appreciates that. And so just that dialogue without dumbing it down is something that he knows you’re paying attention to him, first of all, and he knows you’re sort of talking to him, and he gets, I think, part of the gist of what you’re saying. I think that’s hugely important.

When is it inappropriate to give Michael social attention?

Kay Carr.

We learned the hard way that we would do these reactive things, and he would continue to do these aggressive things, and it just would escalate, escalate, and escalate. So we finally got behavior specialists in who went through all of this with us, and their number one suggestion was ignore. Ignore, ignore, ignore. It’s very hard to ignore when somebody is yanking your hair out or they’re digging their fingernails into your skin. It’s very difficult to just pretend nothing is going on. So you have to be a really good actor. You have to be a poker face. You have to play along and just, like, pretend nothing is happening. And then Michael will calm down and he will quit doing it because he did not get what he wanted, which was all of that attention.

Mike Carr.

So I think the biggest challenge as a parent is, you’re tired at the end of the day and you really want to relax and unwind and watch TV or whatever it is you’re wanting to do. But Michael has not seen his dad all day long, and so this is his time, right, when you’re going down there to be with him. And so doing a little bit of that is great, right? Some high five, some playing some games with him, but he doesn’t want to stop. And so it’s this idea that, hey, Michael, we’re going to have an hour down here and part of that time is going to be with you, but part of that time is just going to be sitting down on the sofa. You’re welcome to sit down and watch TV with us, but if you don’t want to do that, go play your puzzles or go over to the computer game and play the computer game or go into the other room and play Wii, right? So there are a variety of other activities we sort of have going that he can engage in, and he doesn’t want to do that unless you’re with him.

So the thing we’re trying to work on is, can he self-initiate more and sort of entertain himself, especially at the end of the day when mom and dad really would like to unwind and talk to one another and do something that doesn’t involve him all the time. And that seems a bit selfish, but that’s really the reality of the situation, right? Parents cannot always be with their kiddo and entertain them when they’re there versus actually sitting in the same room with them so that you’re present, but you’re not actively engaged with them all the time.

Haden Hunt.

We hope this video provided insight into providing social attention appropriately to the individuals you care for. If you have any questions or would like to provide some feedback about this content or future content that you would like for us to cover, then and please leave a comment below. Thanks.

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