Behavior Analysts approach behaviors different then many other s. They work to determine the function of the behavior. This is the why a behavior is occurring rather than what the behavior looks like.
Behaviors that look the same can have very different functions. There are 4 main functions:
1) Access to reinforcers/things they want (this can be items, objects, attention)
2) Escape/Avoid something they don’t want to do
3) Stereotypy (also known as self stimulation)
4) Relief from pain/discomfort (if you ever believe a behaviour is occurring because of pain, please consult your family doctor).
Here are some examples of how similar looking behaviours can have different functions:
When I slap my arm, the mosquito stops biting me (relief from pain).
When I slap my arm, the teacher tells me to stop (I get attention).
When I slap my arm, the work goes away (I escape a demand).
The slapping looks the same in all the examples, but why I am doing it is different.
Your child hits you and you give them the cookie they want (they get what they want).
Your child hits the teacher and they get sent to the office (the work they were supposed to do goes away).
Your child hits their head and the pain goes away.
The action of hitting looks the same in each case, but why the child is doing it is different.
Knowing why a child is engaging in a specific behaviour is essential to understanding what strategies to employ to decrease undesired behaviours.
Future blogs will discuss possible strategies for each function.