Why do we do what we do as a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst?
Everybody eats. Well yeah, but how does that have anything to do with Applied Behavior
Analysis? Let me tell you!
Every behavior that every single person or animal does serves a purpose.
There are 4 main functions or purposes for engaging in behaviors. These are Escape, Attention,
Tangible, and Sensory (aka Automatic). When creating behavior support plans, the function of a behavior is the first thing that BCBAs need to determine. This helps us understand the “why” behind a behavior and can help us determine an appropriate, alternative to the behavior that we are looking to decrease. First, let’s talk about escape-maintained behaviors.
Escape-maintained behaviors are done to avoid situations, people, or activities. When I take a
nap on a Saturday afternoon to avoid folding the laundry, that is escape maintained. When a child asks
for a break or rips up their paper to avoid doing math homework, they are escaping that unpreferred
activity. A way to prevent or react to escape maintained behaviors is to use “First, then” statements.
Such as “first do your math homework, and then we can watch TV”. Next, we’ll talk about attention-maintained behaviors.
Attention-maintained behaviors are done to gain positive or negative attention from another
person. Posting a photo on Facebook or Instagram is an attention-maintained behavior. A child dumping
out toys because their mom is cooking dinner and not being able to play with them is an attention-maintained behavior. A way to prevent attention-maintained behaviors is to use a strategy called non-contingent reinforcement. Basically, this just means that you are giving positive attention to a person
when it is not contingent on them doing something, it is just given randomly. An example would be that
you are busy doing housework around the house, but your child is playing video games. While they are
playing video games, you can say “hey bud”, “I missed you while you were at school today”, “that game
looks fun”, etc. randomly while doing housework instead of them earning praise.
Tangible-maintained behaviors are done to gain access to an activity or an item. A tangible, maintained behavior that I engage in way too often is going on a shopping spree at Target. Grabbing a
toy from a peer’s hand is also a tangible-maintained behavior. Increasing children’s communication skills
can help prevent tangible-maintained behaviors. Increasing communication skills can be helping them
point to what they want, increasing words in a sentence, or communicating through a device. We love
collaborating with our client’s speech therapists to increase communication!
Last but not least is sensory-maintained behaviors. These behaviors are done because they are
internally reinforcing and do not require the presence of another person. Scratching a bug bite or
spinning in a circle can be behaviors that are sensory-maintained. Unless a sensory-maintained behavior
is hurting a child, we do not want to stop a child from these behaviors. These behaviors help a child
regulate! We work with our occupational therapists for safe replacements for sensory input that may be
dangerous to a child!
But how do you know what the function of a behavior is?
RBTs and BCBAs and sometimes even client’s parents will take ABC data. ABC stands for Antecedent, Behavior, and Consequence. The antecedent is what occurs directly before the target behavior. The behavior is the action that the person is doing. The consequence is what happens after a behavior to increase or decrease future occurrences of the behavior. An example is A-you tell your child to clean up, B-your child cleans up, C-you tell them “good job”. In the future, your child cleans up more because they want to be praised. Another example is A-you tell your child to clean up, B-your child tells you no, C-you clean up for them. In the future, your child continues to say no because they know you will clean up for them.
There is A LOT of individualization and variability when it comes to behaviors and how Applied
Behavior Analysis can help your child. Here at Associates in Pediatric Therapy, we value children’s independence, their strengths,
collaboration between therapies, and family involvement. If you think Applied Behavior Analysis is right
for you and your child, call your nearest APT location! And don’t forget, everybody eats!
BCBA, Rachael Puckett