In this edition of ABA Behind the Scenes, Jami Hardy, MS, BCBA, LGPC, talks on how the function of certain behaviors can tell us why those behaviors are occurring.
Within the field of ABA, before we begin to help someone effectively change his or her behavior, it’s important that we first understand the function of that behavior—in other words, WHY the behavior occurs. Functions of behavior describe how behaviors interact with the environment resulting in predictable consequences (or reinforcement).
Behavior is anything a person says or does, which may include observable actions, feelings, emotions, and thoughts. ABA specifically focuses on behaviors that we can observe to determine the function and to provide effective interventions for those behaviors. There are four basic functions that describe why behavior occurs: 1) Escape or avoidance of something or someone; 2) Attention from another individual; 3) Tangible, or access to something we enjoy; and 4) Automatic, or stimulation that does not require other people or items for their effect.
When determining the function of your child’s behavior you and your BCBA may observe your child’s behaviors at home or school and collect ABC data surrounding the behavior to look for patterns. In addition, your BCBA may conduct structured assessments to obtain additional information about these patterns to determine the full picture of the functions for the behaviors. Understanding these functions is important when trying to increase or decrease behavior. Once your BCBA has enough information from observations and assessment results, he or she can suggest appropriate replacement behaviors to reduce undesirable behaviors and increase opportunities to engage in appropriate behaviors.
|Antecedent (what happens before the behavior)||Behavior||Consequence
(What happens after the behavior)
(Reason the behavior is occurring)
(More appropriate behavior to do instead)
|Teacher hands out math assignment||Johnny stands on the desk and starts throwing paper||Teacher sends Johnny to the principal’s office without math assignment||Escape math work||Ask for help or a break|
|Mom leaves non-vocal daughters room to make a cup of coffee||Daughter hits herself in head 2 times with an open hand||Mom runs back in the room, hugs daughter, and tells her not to hit herself||Attention from mom||Daughter is taught to press button to signal when she would like attention from mom|
|Mom bakes chocolate chip cookies||Susan reaches for cookies and begins to cry||Mom gives Susan cookie||Tangible- gaining access to the cookie||Susan ask mom for a cookie|
|Lawrence is sitting alone in the room||Waves hands back and forth in front of his face||Lawrence sees waves in between fingers||Self-stimulation- Lawrence enjoys seeing the waves||Provide Lawrence with a small fan he can look at during downtime|
Behaviors occur for different reasons, and you and your BCBA will collaboratively work together to determine the function (reasons) for your child’s behavior. Replacement behaviors are taught for those behaviors that limit learning, and inclusion, such as aggression and high amounts of self-stimulatory behaviors. Your BCBA will sit with you to determine which behaviors are important to increase, and which are critical to decrease or eliminate so that your child will maximize their potential during and after treatment.
If you have questions regarding your child’s behavior, your BCBA will be your best resource. If you are looking to receive ABA services contact firstname.lastname@example.org to see if there is a provider in your area.
By Jami Hardy, MS, BCBA, LGPC