Functions of Behavior

September 30, 2019 No Comments

I have been getting a lot of questions lately about the function of behavior. I have been asked how do you determine the function when they are having a behavior. In order to determine what the function of the behavior is you need to know what the 4 functions of behavior are.  

To begin you need to know that the 4 functions of behavior are:

  1. Social attention or access to attention
  2. Access to Tangibles or Activities
  3. Escape or Avoidance
  4. Sensory Stimulation

Lets dig in deeper to each of the functions of behavior.

Social attention or access to attention

Students may exhibit certain behaviors to gain attention from other people. The behaviors may be exhibited to get a reaction from the other students, such as getting them to look at them, play with them and laugh at them. For example: While working in a small group a student may start dancing. When they start dancing then the other students could comment by saying, “He ́s dancing.” They could be laughing at him or her or they may get up and dance with them.  By getting a response from the other students they are reinforcing the attention seeking behavior, which the student will more than likely exhibit that behavior again.

Access to Tangibles or Activities

When a student wants access to a certain tangible item or an activity, they may exhibit a behavior in order to receive that item or activity. For example a student may scream to get the IPAD (a tangible item) or scream to go to the playground (an activity).

Escape or Avoidance

Not all behaviors a student exhibits is for a tangible item. A student may try to escape from a situation that is undesirable to them. This could also mean that they may try to avoid a task or work in the classroom that they may not want to do at that particular time.  For example: A student may become aggressive while working on a task with the teacher. This behavior may be exhibited to get the teacher to stop teaching and remove that child from the activity. That child is now removed from the activity and he/she is no longer working on that task and got out of it. By removing them from the activity, the students behavior was reinforced and this behavior will likely take place again in the future.

Sensory Stimulation

A student may exhibit behaviors that he/she gets from their own movement or their own actions that feels good to them. This is also known as self-stimulatory behavior. The function of this behavior is to give the students some form of internal sensation that feels good to them or to remove a sensation that does not feel good to them.  For example: A student may rock in their seat, hit their head with their hand, bite their hand, or flapping their hands. Some of the sensory stimulation that the student may exhibit self-inflicted or self-injurious behavior. When you determine that your student is exhibiting these behaviors you need to make sure that you are documenting the behavior as well as seeking help. You do not want this student to seriously injury themselves.  I can discuss more about self-injurious behavior and what you can do to help that student in a future blog post.

I love how this chart shows the 4 functions of behavior and the explanation behind each function. This image is from Andrew Davis from Geneva Centre for Autism.

Now that you know the 4 functions of behavior, what do you do with this information? Once you determine what the function of the behavior is you can come up with an intervention to help change the behavior and help the student learn to express themselves in a way that get their needs met, instead of exhibiting the behavior.

Remember To Go Out There Raise Awareness and Embrace Autism!


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