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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Vinokurov

Functions of Behavior

Did you know behaviors communicate something to people?

Behaviors tells people what someone is communicating. It can be for any of the 4 reasons: getting out of something (escape), gaining attention from adult/peer (attention), gaining access to a preferred item or activity (tangibles), or provides personal simulation/pleasure (sensory). Here is a visual of the 4 reasons people engage in behaviors:

Do you want to know what to do if any behavior is happening due to these reasons? I'll share some approaches with you to tackle behaviors head on.

When a behavior is happening due to getting out of a presented task or activity (escape), there are some approaches for this. You can use first then language to redirect an individual to a presented task/activity. A visual schedule can be used to remind an individual of the current subject or period they are in, so they understand the purpose of the presented task/activity. In addition, provide choices of which tasks/activities an individual can complete first; it gives an individual more control of their learning that way. Another option is altering the task/activity; it may be too hard or boring to an individual, so differential task/activity will motivate an individual to complete their work.

When a behavior is happening due to gaining attention of an adult/peer, its important to provide attention for the replacement/new behavior. For example, Jessica raised her hand after a teacher asked the class a math question. Her teacher gives her an opportunity to answer the question. Attention is provided when the replacement/new behavior is used. Replacement/new behaviors for gaining attention could be raising a hand, calling someone's name once after they are done talking to someone, taking turns & waiting, and tapping on someone's shoulder.

When a behavior is happening due to gaining access to a preferred item or activity (tangibles), there are approaches to teach an individual to gain items or activities. Teach an individual to request through their own communication style. It could be through expressive language, picture exchange communication system (PECS), AAC device, etc. Differential reinforcement can be incorporated in order to push for a communication style that matches an individual's communication goals. For example, an individual is reinforced with tablet when they verbally tell their ABA provider "tablet" instead of hitting the ABA provider. In the beginning, more access to the item or activity is important. Eventually, it should be faded out over time as an individual's communication occurs more often.

When a behavior is happening due to personal simulation/pleasure (sensory), there are a couple of approaches I suggest for people to use. An individual needs to be taught a new/replacement behavior. For example, an individual can be taught to go for a walk when needing pleasure. I want people to know that as long as an individual's stimming is not hurting the individual themselves or others, its fine to let them use their stim.

What new behavior would you teach to an autistic individual or client? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

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