When it comes to understanding why your child with autism acts out in certain ways, it is important to understand the four functions of behavior.
In this article, we will discuss what these four functions are and how they can be applied when working with autistic children.
What are the Four Functions of Behavior?
The four functions of behavior were identified by Heather Gilmore, a BCBA and MSW. She used these functions to explain why problematic behaviors occur in autistic children.
The four functions are:
Another primary function of behavior is escape, which involves engaging in actions to avoid or remove oneself from an unpleasant situation, task, or environment. Escape-motivated behaviors are often reinforced when the individual successfully avoids the aversive stimulus, leading to the repetition of these behaviors in similar situations.
For instance, a student might pretend to be sick to avoid going to school and escape a difficult exam. If the student’s behavior results in staying home and not taking the test, they may be more likely to use this strategy in the future when faced with a similar situation.
One of the most common reasons for engaging in a particular behavior is to gain attention from others. This attention can come in various forms, such as praise, physical touch, eye contact, or verbal engagement. Attention-seeking behaviors are often reinforced when other people respond to them, which increases the likelihood that the individual will continue to engage in those behaviors in the future.
For example, a child might throw a tantrum in a store to gain their parent’s attention. If the parent responds by trying to soothe or scold the child, the attention-seeking behavior is reinforced and may occur again in the future.
Behaviors can also be driven by the desire to gain access to tangible items or preferred activities. This function of behavior is often reinforced when the individual successfully obtains the desired object or participates in the preferred activity, increasing the likelihood of engaging in similar behaviors in the future.
For example, a child might engage in whining or begging to get their parent to buy them a toy at the store. If the parent eventually gives in and purchases the toy, the child’s behavior is reinforced, and they may be more likely to use this strategy in the future to obtain desired items.
The final function of behavior is sensory stimulation, which involves actions that provide internal sensory or physiological reinforcement. These behaviors are often self-rewarding, as they create pleasurable sensations or help regulate the individual’s internal state.
For instance, a person might engage in repetitive behaviors such as rocking or hand-flapping because it provides a soothing or calming effect. These behaviors can also be related to sensory sensitivities or preferences, such as a preference for specific textures or an aversion to loud noises.
Can a single Behavior Have More Than One Function?
Yes, a single behavior can have more than one function. In fact, most behaviors have multiple functions. It is important to identify the function of a behavior in order to effectively address it.
In fact, a single behavior can fulfill all the functions.
An example of a single behavior with multiple functions would be a child who throws tantrums to get attention and to get something they want. In this case, the access function and the attention function would be the most important to address.
How does ABA THerapy Work With the Four Functions of Behavior?
An ABA therapist will observe your child in order to identify which of the four functions of behavior they are struggling with. Then, they will work with the child and parents to teach appropriate replacement behavior.
It is important to note that not all behaviors are bad. In fact, many of them serve a purpose. The goal of ABA is not to get rid of all behaviors, but to help the child learn appropriate replacement behaviors.
The four functions of behavior are an important concept to understand when working with autistic children. By understanding these functions, we can better address the behaviors that autistic children may exhibit.
The ABC’s of ABA Therapy:
Now that we understand how an ABA therapist will use the four functions of behavior when working with your child, let’s give an example of how this will look in the real world. This is also known as the ABC’s of ABA therapy.
A – The A stands for antecedent which means the event or situation that happens right before the behavior.
B- The B stands for behavior which is the action taken by your child.
C- The C stands for consequence which is what happens after the behavior.
For example, let’s say your child throws a tantrum to get a toy. The ABC’s would be the following:
A- Your child sees the toy and wants it
B – They throw a tantrum to get the toy
C – They get the toy
Now the child knows if they throw a tantrum, they will get the toy. So, the next time they want the toy, they may throw a tantrum again. In this case, the consequence is reinforcing the behavior.
ABA therapists work to change the consequences of a behavior so that the desired behavior is reinforced instead. This may involve changing the environment, providing positive reinforcement or using punishment.
It is important to remember that every child is different and what works for one child may not work for another. ABA therapists will work with the child and parents to find the best approach for addressing the behavior.
The four functions of behavior are an important concept to understand when working with autistic children. By understanding these functions, we can better address the negative behaviors that your autistic child may exhibit.
At Golden Care Therapy our trained ABA therapists will work with your child to find the best approach for addressing their negative behaviors.
If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.