Why Does My Child Do That? The 4 Functions of Behavior | KGH Autism Services: ASD Treatment Clinic, Chicago & Madison
Why Does My Child Do That? The 4 Functions of Behavior

Why Does My Child Do That? The 4 Functions of Behavior

By Erin on October 19th, 2018
North Shore Center Blog, Madison Center Blog

You might catch yourself asking “why is my child doing this?” when he or she begins displaying a new behavior.  While it seems like it could be a ton of different things, there are really only four (yes, four!) main possibilities as to why they are displaying this behavior: attention, escape, access, and automatic.

Knowing the function of behaviors can be really helpful for both the BCBA and RBT, but also for the parents and caregivers so that they know what they need to do or not do to elicit or bring out the behavior.  Here is a quick breakdown of the four main functions of behavior.

  1. Attention – when an individual displays a behavior to gain someone else’s attention.  An example of a behavior that could be maintained by attention is your child hitting you when you are talking to another person.
  2. Escape – when an individual displays a behavior to get out of a task or a situation that is non-preferred.  An example of this function could be when an individual drops to the floor and starts crying when they are asked to brush their teeth, which is a non-preferred activity.
  3. Access – when an individual displays a behavior to be able to get something, be it a tangible or a location.  An example of this function of behavior could be crying in the checkout line at the grocery store until you give in and buy that piece of candy or bag of chips that they’re begging for.
  4. Automatic – when an individual is reinforced internally for the behavior.  Many individuals on the autism spectrum engage in motor or vocal stereotypy (stimming, also known as self-stimulatory behavior), such as twirling hair or spinning.  This is often because the action of the stereotypy makes them “feel good” and provides a pleasing sensory input.

If you are experiencing challenging behavior, the first step is understanding the function behind it. If you are struggling with a behavior, your KGH consultant or another professional can help! 


*This information is provided for informational and educational purposes only and should not be used to replace consultation with your doctor or qualified health professional.