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The Art of Ignoring

Has an ABA therapist ever told you to ignore a certain behavior? This is because the behavior may be maintained by attention. They may not go into depth about how to ignore but simply make the statement. They may just tell you that they are ignoring the certain behavior. This could leave you with several questions that you may not want to ask such as “What do you mean you ignored them?” ,“Why did you do that?”, “How do you do that?”, and “What does that look like?”.

To start off the definition of ignoring is to refuse to take notice of or acknowledge; disregard intentionally (as defined by google). I like this definition because it includes "intentionally". We are ignoring the behavior intentionally, we are not necessarily ignoring the child. We do not want to give the behavior attention because we do not want that behavior to occur more often. The goal is to decrease the likelihood of that behavior occurring again.

Ignoring can have different forms. One form of ignoring which is probably used by parents often (well at least mine) is when they intentionally do not say something back to you when you said something to them. This could also be referred to as "selective hearing" when we only respond to what we find appropriate. One important factor with this type of ignoring is facial expression you want your expression to remain neutral. This can be hard especially when a child says “you are going to get fired because you did not give me the iPad” because it makes you want to laugh. You have to remain neutral and not feed into the comment.

Another form of ignoring is not saying anything about those split second actions that happen so fast you can’t turn away. No attention is given to the actual action. Here again it is important that your facial expression remains neutral. This could mean not commenting on what they just did by telling them “don’t do it again”, “stop that”, “we don’t do that”, etc. It could also mean you do not fix what they just did such as they threw something, laughed, and then look at you to see what you are going to do about it. In these situations the occurrence happens so fast you choose to not say anything or try to fix it and immediately move on to the next thing.

The last form of ignoring is the full body ignore. The child is doing something that is continuous for attention but is not dangerous to themselves or to those around them. In those instances we do not look at the child, our body or face is not toward the child and we are quiet. If the child was to look at us the only thing they should see is our back. This way the child is fully ignored by receiving no attention. In instances where the behavior is potentially dangerous to themselves or others we ignore the best that we can but block what is potentially dangerous. Maybe the only thing you can do is not look at the child and not talk.

Ignoring can come off wrong at times but the reason we do it is because we want your children to be the best versions of themselves. We want to put our energy into to reinforcing and teaching those appropriate behaviors. In one moment our back could be turned to your child and a minute later we could be having a dance party. Through ignoring those behaviors we are working to have more opportunities for dance parties, blowing bubbles, playing trains or play dough. We want ABA to be fun for your child but in an appropriate way.

Amber Clark RBT


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