We hear parents ask this question often regarding behavior functions. When assessed, reasons for the behavior become more apparent. This newfound understanding can assist in creating a systematic and personalized behavior therapy plan for your child with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
1. Social Attention
A person may engage in a specific type of behavior in order to gain social attention. For example, a child might engage in a behavior to get other people to look at them, laugh at them, play with them, hug them or scold them.
While it may seem strange that a person would engage in a behavior to deliberately have someone scold them, it can occur for because some people it is better to obtain “bad” attention than no attention at all (Cooper, Heron and Heward, 2007).
2. Tangibles or Activities
Some behaviors occur so the person can obtain a tangible item or gain access to a desired activity. For example, someone might scream and shout until their parents buy them a new toy (tangible item) or bring them to the zoo (activity).
3. Escape or Avoidance
Not all behaviors occur so the person can “obtain” something; many behaviors occur because the person wants to get away from something or avoid something altogether (Miltenberger, 2008).
For example, a child might engage in aggressive behavior so his teachers stop running academic tasks with him or another child might engage in self-injury to avoid having to go outside to play with classmates.
4. Sensory Stimulation
The function of some behaviors does not rely on anything external to the person and instead are internally pleasing in some way – they are “self-stimulating” (O’Neill, Horner, Albin, Sprague, Storey, and Newton, 1997).
They function only to give the person some form of internal sensation that is pleasing or to remove and internal sensation that is displeasing (e.g. pain).
For example, a child might rock back and forth because it is enjoyable for them while another child might rub their knee to soothe the pain after accidentally banging it on the corner of the table. In both cases, these children do not engage in either behavior to obtain any attention, any tangible items or to escape any demands placed on them.
Tools For Discovering the Functions of a Behavior- ABC Data
The observer records a descriptive account of the behaviors of interest including what happens before, during and after behaviors are performed.
What occurs in the environment immediately before the behavior of interest?
What the behavior of interest looks like.
Examples of what to record: What the behavior of interest looks like (e.g hitting, kicking, throwing, ripping paper, eating rocks etc) frequency and duration when applicable.
What occurs in the environment immediately after the behavior of interest? This is the part of the ABC’s that causes the behavior to happen again and again.
Examples of what to record: Who delivered the consequence, what items they were allowed access to pre- and post-consequence, what work they stopped doing as a result of the behavior.
A tried and true example of the ABCs of functions of behavior in action is the screaming kid in the grocery store. A child in a shopping cart enters the checkout line and sees the shelf full of candy (antecedent), they begin to cry because they want a candy bar (behavior), the parent wants them to stop crying so they buy them the candy bar (consequence). In the child’s mind, they cried once and got the candy bar, most likely they will cry next grocery trip since the behavior worked in the past. Before long, it becomes a perpetual loop of crying and buying.
By assessing your child’s behaviors based on this technique, you may be able to more accurately understand your child’s behavior and develop a plan that you can implement in your home.
Leaving the house with a child who has Autism Spectrum Disorder can be difficult, but we promise, it is worth the countless learning opportunities these outings provide. New places and people are excellent ways to ensure your child is generalizing all of the amazing new skills you are teaching him from making eye contact to asking another child to join him in play.
Things to note:
Stand in front of your child when he or she is swinging. This way they can associate you with the fun sensation of being pushed back and forth!
Work on language and social skills while simultaneously performing gross motor activities. This builds critical connections between different regions of the brain.
Encourage your child to play with many different items at the park. Make sure you prompt him to move on if his play becomes repetitive in nature (ex: going up the same ladder and down the same slide over and over).
While at the park:
1. Get in your child’s attention spotlight as often as possible (face-to-face within 3-4 feet)
2. Have fun (goofy faces, sing songs, big smiles, play movement games).
3. Imitate his vocalizations and actions. Trust us children love to see that you are interested in what they are doing. Initially you may need to be careful to bring two of certain items such as balls, toy trucks, etc. Some children will shut down if they feel like you are taking their toy.
4. Follow the ONE-UP RULE. If your child is nonverbal label items and actions with one word (e.g. “push,” “swing”) If he is reliably using one word to make requests and communicate table items and actions with two words (“go fast” “kick ball”).
These strategies can increase engagement between you and your child with Autism Spectrum Disorder. We hope you have found them useful.
Feel free to comment with any additional strategies below!
This week we want to celebrate an amazing person who Spectrum feels privileged to call an employee!
Kristen’s career serving individuals with Autism began when her former foster son was diagnosed with Autism in 2013. Her passion was ignited and spurred a career in education.
During her undergraduate studies she served as an in-school tutor for children with cognitive and learning disabilities utilizing social and emotional interventions to improve classroom behavior.
In January 2018, Kristen moved from the school environment to in-home services working as an RBT. Kristen earned a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Liberty University and has completed graduate coursework in School Counseling at NYU as well as Education Policy at American University.
Kristen’s specialties include early intervention, verbal behavior, educational advocacy, social skills training, and community awareness. She is currently enrolled at Pennsylvania State University working towards a Master’s in Education in Applied Behavior Analysis.
Thank you for all that you do for your kiddos and fellow employees, Kristen!
The holiday season tends to be filled with social engagements, both with friends and family. In order to make your holidays as comfortable and stress-free as possible, we created a check list for preparing your loved one with Autism Spectrum Disorder for the upcoming activities. Hopefully with implementing some of our go-to advice, your travels or visits can go as smoothly as possible.
Traveling with Your Loved One
Upon deciding on a destination for the holidays, speak with your host about what they can do to help make your visit a pleasant one– and let them know your child’s daily meal and nap routine incase of any impediments.
Carry documents of your child’s diagnosis in case of airline/airport requests, or make a medical necklace or bracelet.
Most airports have an autism program in place. You can call and find out so you can take a security run through with your loved one.
You can let your airline know ahead of time that you are flying with a child with autism. Three days before your trip, call TSA’s hotline, TSA Care’s (855-787-2227), which can help you act as an intermediary with customer care at the airport.
Make sure your child has food readily available that they can eat, both while traveling and at the destination. Have a plan in place to buy groceries upon arriving if need be.
Discuss or even practice the traditions you will partake in ahead of time with your loved one.