Functions of Behavior: Well Explained

September 11, 2023
Mom supporting children with ASD

Children who are autistic may exhibit certain behavioral patterns that can appear odd or different to those who are not familiar with the condition. These behaviors can range from repetitive actions and limited social interactions to heightened sensitivities and communication challenges. 

Understanding the functions of behavior is crucial for behavior analysts and caregivers when working with children on the autism spectrum to provide effective behavior intervention.

Autism, often referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by a wide range of behaviors and challenges. Let us explore some of these behaviors and how they can be understood through the lens of behavior analysis.

Before we get into exploring the function of behaviour, let us explore some of the unique behaviours that children with autism may be inclined to exhibit, such as: 

  • Meltdowns– Children with autism may experience meltdowns when they become overwhelmed by sensory stimuli or changes in routine. These meltdowns can manifest as tantrums, crying, or even aggressive behavior.
  • Repetitive Movements– Many children with autism engage in repetitive movements or behaviors, such as hand-flapping, rocking, or spinning objects. 
  • Echolalia– Echolalia is a behavior where children with autism repeat words, phrases, or sentences that they have heard, often without apparent understanding of their meaning. 

Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) use the concept of the functions of behavior to understand why a specific behavior occurs. There are four primary functions of behavior, which include:

  • Escape/Avoidance– Some autistic children engage in certain behaviors to escape or avoid situations that are uncomfortable or distressing. For instance, a child might engage in self-stimulatory behaviors, like rocking, to cope with sensory overload in a crowded environment.
  • Attention-Seeking- Some behaviors are intended to gain attention from others. For a child with autism, this could involve engaging in disruptive actions to invoke a response from caregivers or peers.
  • Access to Tangibles– Children with autism may exhibit behaviors to obtain access to desired objects or activities. For example, a child might throw a tantrum to get a favorite toy or engage in a certain activity. 
  • Sensory Stimulation– Repetitive behaviors, like rocking or spinning objects, often serve as a form of self-stimulation or self-soothing. These behaviors help children with autism regulate their sensory experiences.

Understanding the functions of behavior is essential for providing effective behavior intervention for children with autism.

At Step Forward ABA, we are committed to helping your child make progress and lead a fulfilling life through ABA therapy interventions. Our team of experienced behavior analysts curate and implement behavior interventions to target your child’s specific goals. Contact us today to learn more about ABA therapy and custom behavior interventions for your child in Florida or New Mexico! 

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