Functions of Behavior: Part 1 of 2
As you may have noticed, I had been writing a regular column highlighting one of the 28 evidence-based practices (EBPs), otherwise known as ‘things are have a lot of proof behind them that they really work’ in helping people with autism (Steinbrenner, 2020). This is a recently updated list from Wong’s earlier work (2016) outlining 27 EBPs. As an educator involved in the field of inclusive education and as a parent working to support my own kiddo, I am all about finding what really works and excited when new developments like this occur. Regularly, I plan to highlight one of these 28 EBPs for you.
When we talk about deciphering the function or ‘why’ of a behavior, it is important to define what the word ‘behaviour’ means. Shane Lynch tells us that, “Behaviour is anything and everything: every observable action by a person is behaviour.” However, “observations do not provide an explanation of the behaviour”. Lynch warns the observer to remain objective when observing and also the importance of ruling out any medical biologically-based behaviours.
Lynch goes on to explain that behavior occurs for one of two reasons. The students is either trying to get something or trying to avoid something. If we can keep this in mind and try to target what they person is getting or avoiding then we have a better chance at making changes to adverse behaviors. For example, the person may be trying to attention/reactions, items (tangible), activities, automatic reinforcement or sensory stimulation. In terms of avoiding, the person may be trying to avoid work, sensory overload, transitions, social situations or unwanted sensory stimulation.
I read an article recently about some students at a school who were having issues that seemed out of character for them every springtime. Winter would be no problem but as the weather warmed up and the students lost their heavy winter jackets, hats, mittens and heavy boots, there seemed to be new behaviour problems. Once the parents and school personnel realized that the students had been benefitting from the sensory input of the tighter heavier winter clothes and enjoying the positive pressure that had been providing, it was easier to come up with more appropriate solutions. If one did not realize it was sensory related, it would have been much harder to help support. This would not have been my first thought so this information is very helpful when trying to see situations through a new and helpful lens.
If we do not determine the reason/function behind the behavior, we may end up trying different strategies or interventions that are not going to make any difference at all. For example, if a child is throwing a tantrum at the grocery store each time, it could be because they are hungry for a treat, want your undivided attention, are tired if its always right before naptime, find the smell of the meats undesirable, just don’t like doing the work of unloading the groceries afterwards, the having to stop their play or other desired activity to go and get the groceries. Each reason could be legitimate but figuring out the ‘why’ will aid in overcoming the difficult response.
Trying different strategies to address the wrong ‘reason’ the person is having difficulties can make the responses more intense or cause more harm than good. This is like taking a shot in the near dark and hoping for the best. Research supports this as we read, “Furthermore, random selection of an intervention can result in a lengthy process of trial and error, which may negatively impact a learner's educational process and social interactions, or may serve to strengthen problem behaviors.” (AIM module.)
The overriding goal of all educational/behavioral interventions is to increase an individual's skills in order to help him/her function independently in a variety of environments.
Functional behavioral assessment (FBA) is much more than a procedure; it is a process and a way of thinking. FBA can assist teachers, parents and caregivers by determining when, where and why which should lead to a smoother and more independent situation for the learner.
For example, if someone is trying to avoid some work that they are required (and able) to do, ex: putting away their laundry, they may try things like changing the subject, procrastinating, starting other preferred activities, etc. If you provide a highly desired tangible item (something the person really enjoys but has no regular access to) if they put away their laundry, you may have a better chance of that happening (achieving the desired outcome/behavior). The learner may really want positive social interaction, compliments, high fives, smiles, etc. to help them get the work/task done and by providing that during and after you may also get a better outcome. Try to consider what the learner will want to get or avoid to guide your next response.
Look for part two of FBA strategy in next months’ edition where I will further flush out this information. Remember: figuring out the WHY will get you closer to determining a more successful NOW WHAT solution to the issue.
Leave a Reply.
Filter Posts by Topic
Carmen has been published in a variety of online and print articles. Writing is a passion and she strives to grow and share her message.