Why Am I Seeing This Behavior in my Child?

Happy New Year!  I am excited to enter 2016 with you and continue to assist families in learning more about ABA and behavioral principles.  Last time we learned about what the function of a problem behavior is and why it is important to develop an intervention plan based upon the function of a behavior rather than the topography.  Today we will discuss what steps we must take in order to determine what the function of a problem behavior is.  As parents, we have all asked the question “Why am I seeing this behavior in my child?”. It is vital that every parent, caregiver, and teacher be able to determine the function of a behavior quickly and accurately.  As many of you know, our children may try new behaviors from time to time.  We may not always have a Behavior Plan in place for every behavior that occurs.  Thus, in order to prevent these new behaviors from remaining in our child’s repertoire, we must make sure we do not reinforce the problem behavior.  In order to do this, we must be able to determine the function of the behavior as it occurs.

There is a three-term contingency that can be used to help determine the function of a behavior:

Antecedent  —  Behavior  —  Consequence

Antecedent: an environmental condition or stimulus change existing or occurring prior to a behavior of interest.

Example:

Johnny sees candy in the store but can’t access it  —  Johnny begins screaming and flops to the floor  —  Embarrassed, Mom gives Jonny the candy

The antecedent can also be termed a trigger.  This is the situation or event that occurred immediately prior to the behavior.  Looking at the antecedent can help us determine the function of the behavior in this situation.

Behavior:  the target action being monitored; the topography (e.g. hitting, throwing, crying, etc); ABA does NOT look at inner thoughts or emotions but rather observable behaviors and actions.

-Instead of stating, “Sally was very upset”, “He got mad”, etc., a Behavior Analyst would state, “She cried intensely”, “He screamed”, “He threw objects”, etc.

Example:

Johnny sees candy in the store but can’t access it  —  Johnny begins screaming and flops to the floor  —  Embarrassed, Mom gives Jonny the candy

In short, the behavior is what we are targeting at the time.  What is the individual doing that we are attempting to change?  That is the Behavior.

Consequence: a stimulus change that follows a behavior of interest, and affects the occurrences of that behavior in the future.

Johnny sees candy in the store but can’t access it  —  Johnny begins screaming and flops to the floor  —  Embarrassed, Mom gives Johnny the candy

The consequence of a problem behavior will have one of two effects:

  1. Increase the likelihood that the behavior will happen in the future (reinforce the behavior)
  2. Decrease the likelihood that the behavior will happen in the future (punish the behavior)

It is important to note that the consequence is what determines if the behavior will continue to happen in the future.  If the problem behavior accesses reinforcement, it is likely to occur again.  If it does not access reinforcement, the individual is much less likely to engage in that behavior again, as it does not “work”.  Remember what we discussed before:  there is a reason for every behavior we engage in.  Nothing occurs for no reason at all.  If an individual continues to engage in a behavior, look at how those in his environment are responding.  This can help us determine the function of his behavior.  For example, does the child receive a lecture for 5 minutes every time he engages in the behavior?  It is possible the behavior is an attempt to access attention.  Is the child allowed to escape a demand that had been placed as a result of the behavior? It is likely that the behavior is an attempt to escape an undesirable situation.

In our next blog we will discuss what the 4 functions of behavior are.  I hope you are finding answers to your questions in my blogs.  If you ever need further assistance, I can be reached at kendra.satterfield@caringabatherapy.com.

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