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An autism parent knows all too well the exhaustion that comes with balancing life outside the home and managing their child in the best way possible. After a long day, both parent and child are tapped out.
The child has been exposed to stimuli throughout the day, and their emotional bucket is full. For the parent, they have had to put their game face on, bat the challenges that come with the outside world, and now need to make the most of their quality time with their family. But it can feel like entering a minefield.
The Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis has published positive findings that noncontingent reinforcement can benefit both the home and school setting.
Using noncontingent attention can help you nip inevitable meltdowns in the bud by stopping them before they start. And here is how and why.
What Is Noncontingent Attention?
Noncontingent reinforcement (NCR) is a concept used in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and can help reduce the challenging behaviors in children with autism. This is done by being pre-emptive and providing positive reinforcement meaningful to the child.
It is not related to the behavior, but it will soothe the child enough to prevent the challenging behavior from occurring in the first place when done correctly.
Autism moms and dads know that the massive meltdowns experienced at the end of a long day are not tantrums, lousy behavior, or obstinance. Instead, it is usually a result of enormous overstimulation. Once the child is safely in the bosom of their family, any restraint they have managed to hold goes out the window. Therefore, parents usually bear the brunt. And it can be exhausting.
If a child can receive the attention and soothing they need without it always being a reward for positive behavior, then a great pressure is tremoved from them.
Contingent attention is a reward that is directly linked to positive behavior. The child must do something to earn it. For example, if they eat their veggies, they can have some screen time. This has its place, but it can put pressure on an anxious child who wants the meaningful reward despite the fact that the ask feels too much.
In contrast, noncontingent attention is not dependent on any specific behavior or action. The child does not need to do anything to earn the reward, or attention. It’s not linked to a certain action, like eating vegetables, or even a certain time or period. It’s very beneficial in letting the child know they deserve special things, attention, and rewards just because, even if they aren’t eating their vegetables or getting good grades!
Examples Of Noncontingent Reinforcement and Communication
If your child is verbal and likes to talk about their day or their latest obsession, take a moment to sit down and open the conversation. This immediately alleviates the anxiety building in them before they seek your attention.
A walk in the garden, interacting with their pets, sharing a favorite snack – whatever action will speak to your child’s needs can move mountains and limit disruptive behavior.
Finding time and energy to engage in small things that your child enjoys as soon as you get home may seem exhausting. You just want 5 minutes with a cup of tea, or you want to tackle that load of washing before the next chore, but it’s essential to realize that those ten minutes of undivided attention will gain hours of relative calm.
Why Is Noncontingent Reinforcement Important?
Imagine driving home after a long day, knowing you must prepare a meal. You are exhausted and have a million other things to do, but you know that your hungry family is expecting you to get on with it ASAP. When you get home, you discover that your partner has already done it. You didn’t ask – the meal was just prepared. The relief of not having to face it yourself will spill over into the rest of your evening.
It is no different when it comes to your child. Sometimes, the thought of seeking interaction brings about anxiety. But, after an exhausting day, it may be as simple as them finding the energy to try and communicate their needs. The relief is palpable when it is done without them even seeking it.
What Is A Noncontingent Reinforcement Schedule?
A noncontingent reinforcement schedule is a conscious plan to manage and pre-empt challenging autism related behaviors.
It is especially effective if the child reverts to difficult behavior to get attention. Any attention will often do, so negative behavior is an easy way to get it.
When a schedule is in place, the child anticipates positive interaction, leading to less anxiety. It’s the same reason why children with autism thrive on routine. When they know what to expect, they feel safer and in control.
No one knows your child as well as you do. You know what they crave and scheduling these little acts of quality time will be as beneficial to you as it is to them.
Get The Support You Need!
If you are struggling with a child with autism and need support when implementing noncontingent reinforcement, Circle Care Services in New Jersey is here to help. Our staff is equipped to help your child and your family with communication, social skills, behavior concerns, and parent training. Call us now.