As a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) who continues to work with the pediatric population, I have often heard parents or loved one’s say, “I have no idea why he/she does this” or “It just happens out of nowhere,” when describing a specific behavior their child engages in.
Unfortunately, I can tell you that all behavior does in fact have a function, whether that behavior is an undesirable behavior or an appropriate behavior. More importantly, identifying that behavior function is an important part of effective behavior change.
In the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), behavior can be defined as having one of these four functions:
- Attention: This function is a means of gaining attention from another person or people and can take many forms. It can be provided by eye contact, a facial expression, telling someone “no,” laughter, or specific comments about a behavior. It is important to note that telling a child, “No,” “Stop,” or “I’m ignoring you,” after engaging in an inappropriate behavior is still in fact attending to the behavior despite the content of the words.
- Access to tangibles: This function is maintained by gaining access to a specific item or activity. Access to these preferred items may be for a leisure purpose (e.g. playing with a toy, going to the park, etc.) or a functional purpose (e.g. accessing a toothbrush to brush your teeth).
- Automatic: This function is maintained by automatic reinforcement in that the behavior in itself provides the reinforcement. Some examples of these behaviors may be thumb sucking or nail biting. If a child enjoys the oral sensation that is produced from these behaviors, you may see an increase in that behavior.
- Escape or Avoidance: This function is to escape or avoid an unwanted event or activity. Often behaviors of non-compliance may post-pone or even terminate the completion of an unwanted task, putting your hands over your ears may terminate the sound of a non-preferred noise, or scratching your skin may terminate the pain of an itch.
It is important to note that all individuals engage in behavior despite physical or intellectual capabilities. As previously mentioned, that behavior does in fact have a function, and it is through the relationship between the behavior and its environment (people, places, things) to which that function is identified.
NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!
Cooper, J. O., Heron, T.E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.). New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.