Finding the Function of Behavior: Cleveland ABA Therapy Insight
When it comes to the science of behavior, the first question our Cleveland ABA therapy team wants to have answered is: Why?
Every behavior has a function. It is finding out the function of behavior that allows us to formulate effective intervention strategies to help change it. For our Northeast Ohio behavior analysts, determining the function of behavior is – without question – one of the most essential parts of this job.
Parents and caretakers also may benefit a great deal when they understand why a behavior occurs. We teach parents basic strategies on how to do this, allowing them to troubleshoot in the moment. This is important because when we don’t know the true cause of a behavior and our response is reactive, we may in fact end up reinforcing that behavior, unintentionally.
Why is my child face down screaming bloody murder in the grocery store when all I did was take his fingers out of his mouth? Why won’t my child stop throwing his food onto the floor when I’ve begged, coaxed, and even yelled at him not to do that?
It’s key to understand that there is a reason behind all behavior. All behavior has a function. If the goal is a different response or outcome, we must find out why the behavior is occurring in the first place. We must also understand unintentional reinforcements. For example, if the function of a behavior is to gain mom & dad’s attention (which is a pretty common function), then mom & dad yelling or having some big response to a behavior has the exact opposite effect of what they intended. They are unintentionally reinforcing that behavior – and that is going to take some time to undo.
Cleveland ABA Therapy Team IDs Top 4 Behavior Catalysts
When it comes to motivation for behavior, there is no one-size-fits-all. That’s why we are behavior scientists. We use tried & true methods to test our theories and hypotheses. We carefully study the ABC’s of behavior (antecedent, behavior, and consequence). What happened just before the behavior? What was the behavior itself? What happened immediately after? Then we see if tweaking the antecedent and/or consequence has any bearing on the behavior. If it doesn’t, we can keep trying different strategies, or we may have to adjust our initial theory about the function of the behavior (i.e., maybe the goal isn’t attention-seeking, but rather sensory input).
At our Cleveland ABA therapy clinic, we’ve identified the top four behavior motivations that can help provide parents with a good starting point in their own analyses. They are:
Attention. This is probably the most common behavior motivator. Here, a child will engage in a certain behavior because it gains them attention. Young kids are going to be constantly looking to seek parents’ attention, but it might also be teachers, therapists, siblings, peers, etc. And bear in mind: Not all attention-seeking behavior is the same. A child may shout out of turn in preschool. They may kick their parent from the grocery store cart. They may run away (knowing mom or dad will run after them & catch them).
Escape. Children often engage in avoidance behavior as a means of getting out of unwanted situations. “Escape” could mean throwing a tantrum to get out of brushing teeth before bed. It could be throwing non-preferred foods off their plate and onto the floor. It could be bolting out the door and down the street. Parents have to be really careful with this one because a common “punishment” is time-out – but if the motivation is escape, they’re unintentionally reinforcing this behavior.
Access. The child may be engaging in a certain behavior to get access to a desired thing or activity. An example might be if they rip a toy from their sibling’s grip, simply because they wanted it. Doing so gave them access – and immediate gratification.
Automatic. We might also call this “sensory motivation.” The child engages in this behavior mainly because it feels good. For kids with autism, this could mean flapping their hands, banging their head, spinning in circles, etc. These can be some of the toughest behaviors to tackle because there often isn’t a good “consequence” for these. We may need to look closely at whether these are behaviors we truly need to address, or whether it is harmless stimming/self-soothing.
Our ABA therapy team uses evidence-based methods to help determine the child’s motivation, but also use positive reinforcement to help them to find more appropriate responses.
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
Observing Behavior Using A-B-C Data, By Dr. Cathy Pratt, BCBA-D and Melissa Dubie, M.S., Indiana Resource Center for Autism
More Blog Entries:
5 To-Dos After Cleveland Autism Diagnosis, May 13, 2022, Cleveland ABA Therapy Blog