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April 7, 2021

Why Is My Child Acting This Way? Behavior and ASD

Understanding the reason, or function, of behavior and how it explains inappropriate reactions

Key Takeaways:

  • Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may display inappropriate behavior in various situations.
  • The function of behavior helps us understand the “why” behind a child’s actions.
  • There are four basic functions of behavior: attention, access, escape, and automatic reinforcement.
  • ABA therapists identify the function of behavior in children with ASD and help them better respond to situations.

Children on the autism spectrum may exhibit inappropriate behaviors in response to stressful situations. These episodes can be frustrating for parents and other family members or caregivers. How do you handle these reactions? What can be done to promote appropriate social responses?

The best way is by understanding what drives this behavior. In other words, “Why is my child acting in this manner?”

We explore the psychology behind the behavior children with ASD display, known as the “functions of behavior.” We also offer a solution: ABA Therapy and explain how knowing and understanding the “why” helps trigger the desired improvement.

The Functions of Behavior Explained

The function of behavior is a commonly used phrase in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). The function of behavior means identifying the “why” behind any behavior. ABA therapists start by uncovering why your child acts the way he/she does. Once the therapist understands what causes a child to behave in a certain way, he or she can work to help him or her respond more appropriately.

The Four Functions of Behavior

There are four basic functions of behavior, which are reasons “why” we respond in a particular way depending on the situation.  They are:

Function #1: Attention

This one is fairly straightforward. A child wants attention from someone so he/she behaves in a way that will gain them access to attention. Other than parents, children may try to get the attention of others (siblings, classmates, and teachers) using inappropriate behaviors. The behavior they display might take the form of pinching a sibling, knocking something over, calling out in class out of turn, telling jokes at an inappropriate time, or losing their temper.

Function #2: Access

When children want access to something – whether it’s a toy, a special treat/snack, or an activity – they might act out until they get it. This behavior is typical of all children, especially toddlers and preschoolers. It’s why you may see a small child fall to the ground and scream if they don’t get what they want. Some children learn that having a tantrum works. The desire for “access” can sometimes be amplified in children with ASD.

Function #3: Escape

Sometimes, a behavior is a result of wanting to escape from a situation that causes fear or stress. It may also be a result of avoidance for a child that doesn’t want to do something. A child who doesn’t want to brush her hair, for example, might throw her brush on the ground. A child who doesn’t want to clean his room might run away to avoid doing that.

Function #4: Automatic 

Children, just like adults, engage in behavior that feels good. A child will scratch an itch, for example. In the case of children with ASD, certain behaviors may relieve stress or anxiety. Automatic behaviors can take the form of hand flapping, rocking back and forth, or making noises. Every child is unique, however, so their behaviors are special to them.

Why Understanding the Function of Behavior Matters

Understanding “why” an inappropriate behavior occurs is the first step in improving it. Why did your child throw a book across the room? Why is she yelling? Why did he push you away?

Once the function is identified, an ABA therapist can work to redirect and improve the behavior by directly intervening on the behavior and teaching more appropriate behavior(s) to replace it.

How ABA Therapy Can Help Improve Behavior

ABA Therapy focuses on giving children with ASD the skills they need to thrive and become more independent. It helps children develop functional play, self-management, communication, and social skills

There are seven primary goals of ABA therapy:

  1. Identify the behaviors you want to change
  2. Set goals and outcomes
  3. Determine how to measure progress and improvements
  4. Evaluating your child’s skill level at the outset of therapy
  5. Help your child learn new skills and coping mechanisms to avoid negative behaviors
  6. Review your child’s progress over time
  7. Determine if further therapy is necessary

While ABA Therapy focuses on the child, it also encompasses the family and caregivers so they can reinforce these lessons at home.

ABA Therapy at Lumiere Children’s Therapy

Your child’s behavior can impact his/her life in numerous ways, both at school and with family and friends. Our ABA Therapy program is designed to help children with ASD learn positive behavior while teaching you how to reinforce lessons at home. Our ABA team is made up of experienced professionals trained to give your child comprehensive and efficient therapy.

We also provide other comprehensive therapies so children with a wide range of physical, emotional, and developmental conditions can achieve traditional milestones.

Our services include:

  • Speech therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Developmental therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Social work
  • Early intervention
  • Teletherapy

Lumiere Children’s Therapy is a full-service, multidisciplinary pediatric therapy practice located in Chicago that serves the developmental needs of children from birth to 18 years of age. Learn more about how our team of clinicians works to improve the lives of children and their families.

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