Behavior analytic research shows that there are different reasons why a child may act disruptive or act out.
We like to call these reasons the four functions of behavior. These functions are based on the principals of ABA.
What are the four functions?
Escape maintained behavior is a behavior that allowed your child to avoid or escape a situation in the past.
For example, imagine David is sitting in a math class bored stiff and begins to make funny noises from the back of the classroom. The teacher hears these noises, gets annoyed and tells him to leave the classroom. The teacher thinks that the consequence will stop this behavior, while in reality, David is so happy to have been able to leave the room. The next time that he makes noises in the back of the classroom, this behavior is probably maintained by the escape function.
Examples of inappropriate behaviors that are escape maintained include:
tantrums, physical or verbal aggression, or refusals.
Attention maintained behavior is a behavior that allowed your child to get attention in the past.
Let’s get back to David who is sitting in a math class bored stiff and begins to make funny noises from the back of the classroom. Imagine if his classmates turn around and begin to laugh at the funny sounds that he makes. David loves the adrenaline rush that he feels from all the attention his classmates are giving him. The next time that he makes noises in the back of the classroom, this behavior is probably maintained by the attention function.
Examples of inappropriate behaviors that are attention maintained include:
Teasing, inappropriate jokes or comments, disruptive noise, or complaints of hurt.
3. Access to Tangibles
Tangible maintained behavior is a behavior that allowed your child to get what he wants in the past.
Picture a parent in a local grocery store waiting in line. There are four customers ahead of her waiting to pay. Her two-year-old daughter, Molly is throwing a tantrum that she wants the chocolate bar that is displayed across from the cashier. Exasperated, mom takes the chocolate bar off the shelf and hands it to her. The next time that Molly throws a tantrum at a grocery store, the behavior is very possibly is maintained by the Access to Tangibles function since she learned that crying gets me what I want.
Examples of inappropriate behaviors that are tangible reward maintained include:
tantrum for a toy or refusing to cooperate with anything until given a reward is given.
The last function of behavior based on behavior analytic principles is known as the Automatic function.
Automatically maintained behavior is a behavior that gives your child self-stimulation
This behavior is “automatically rewarding for a child.” It is pleasing to the child for sensory input and relieves anxiety.
Examples of behaviors that are maintained by automatic reinforcement include:
hand mouthing, thumb sucking, rocking, hand flapping, or twirling.