ABA 101: The Functions of Behavior

January 12, 2017 - Morgan McClellan

ABA 101: The Functions of Behavior

Behavior Analysts use the Functions of Behavior to identify why a behavior is occurring. Determining the function helps guide treatment planning for problem behaviors.

img_2415The function of the behavior is important to identify for several reasons, including behavior prevention, choosing socially appropriate replacement behaviors and the creation of Behavior Plans (see our BIP blog to learn more). Our ABA therapists take data, which is then analyzed by a BCBA, in order to determine a common function behind the behavior.

The four functions of behavior are sensory stimulation, escape, access to attention and access to tangibles. BCBA Megan Graves explains the four functions with a description and example for each function.

  • Sensory Stimulation: “A person’s own movements/actions feel good to that individual. For example, a child twirls his or her hair as they sit for an extended amount of time. If twirling hair gives that individual the sensory input they are seeking, then hair twirling will continue.”
  • Escape: “Something is (or signals) an undesirable situation and the person wants to get away from it. For example, a therapist says, ‘Wash your hands,’ and the learner runs out of the bathroom.”
  • Access to Attention: “Someone desires for access to social interaction(s). For example, the child screams, ‘Look at me!’ If screaming gets access to attention, then screaming will continue.”
  • Access to Tangibles: “Someone wants access to a specific item or activity. For example, Michelle takes the iPad away fromimg_2439 Aaron, so Aaron pinches her. If pinching gets access to the iPad, then pinching will continue.”

Identifying the function of behavior helps us to prevent problem behavior, teach our kids better ways to have their needs met and ensure consistency across all environments. We observe your child in his or her environments, describe what is going on before and after the problem behavior occurs, identify the function, teach a replacement behavior that still meets the same need as the problem behavior and reinforce the replacement behavior. Understanding the function of the behavior helps us to decrease the problem behaviors and increase appropriate or desired behaviors.

Check out our article ABA 101 to learn more about the fundamentals of Applied Behavior Analysis.

Download our Quick Guide to the Functions of Behavior on our “Resources” page.

Photos in this blog by Creative Edge Photography


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January 12, 2017, Morgan McClellan

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