Finding the Functions of Behavior in ASD Children

When a child with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism demonstrates challenging behaviors, we tend to blame the child’s autism. However, these challenging behaviors are not a byproduct of autism, rather learned due to ineffective means to get needs met—especially when there are barriers to communication.

functions of behavior

Bottom line: if an individual does not have a way to communicate appropriately, he or she will find a way to communicate in another way (e.g. screaming or hitting).

Keeping in mind the ABCs of behavior from our previous post, let’s discuss the key to changing behavior.

Behavior is changed when we know the function—or purpose—of the behavior.

The antecedent provides information about what triggers the behavior and the consequences provide information about what maintains the behavior. When we know the trigger, we can prevent the behavior. Conversely, when we know what maintains the behavior, we can change how we respond to the behavior.

When it comes to children with Asperger’s or High-Functioning Autism, behaviors generally occur for the following reasons:

  • Obtain or avoid attention
  • Obtain or avoid tangibles
  • Obtain or avoid activity
  • Obtain or avoid sensory

For example, if a child is crying because he wants the candy and you said ”no,” then the function of behavior would be to obtain a tangible (i.e. candy). However, if the child screams and runs out the door instead of executing a particular action, we can make the guess that the function of the behavior is to avoid an activity.

In this vein, we can use the antecedents and the consequences to make positive behaviors more likely to occur and problem behaviors less likely. Once we find out the function of behavior, we can then prevent the behavior, replace the behavior, and avoid reinforcing the behavior.

One incident of the behavior might not give you a clear indication of the function of behavior, but if you continue to take data on the ABCs of behavior or see patterns in an individual’s actions, you can make a better hypothesis of the function of behavior in your child.

How do you think you and your family can use the functions of behaviors in the home?

by Adriana Sanchez, MA, BCBA

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Jennifer Allen

After an extensive career broadcast marketing, Jennifer and her husband searched for answers when their oldest son hit the kinder years with great difficultly. After finally learning that their oldest son had Aspergers Syndrome, she left her career in television and became a full time mother to both of her sons. Jennifer elicited the participation of her sons and together they produced several independent programs including a children’s animated series titled Ameriquest Kids (now distributed by Landmark Media) as well as her documentary and book titled, Coping to Excelling: Solutions for school-age children diagnosed with High-Functioning Autism or Aspergers Syndrome. The need for more information encouraged Jennifer to elicit a team of autism experts to provide weekly, original content to a website free to anyone seeking to live their best under the diagnosis of High-Functioning Autism/Aspergers Syndrome… appropriately titled: Aspergers101.com.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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