So what would be the ideal way to address problem behavior? When it comes to our children we just want difficult behavior to stop as quickly and effortlessly as possible. Whatever it takes…rewards or even punishment are frequent weapons in the parental arsenal against challenging behaviors.
But if the problem behavior has a function, or if the behavior is a way to express an unmet need, rewarding or punishing the behavior may not be the answer. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) teaches us that behavior occurs as individuals get something out of it; ABA specifically targets the four functions of behavior which are:
- Escape: The child behaves in a way that may get him/her out of doing something he/she doesn’t like, or the behavior helps him/her avoid it all together
- Attention: Frequently a child’s problem behavior is simply a way to get attention from parents or teachers
- Access to tangibles: The child may display problematic behavior to gain access to something he/she likes or enjoys, for example a tantrum may result in more time on the iPad
- Automatic reinforcement: In this instance, the behavior actually provides the reinforcement; stimming (self-stimulatory behavior) is an example where the behavior itself feels good to the child
Understanding the function behind an autistic child’s difficult behavior often leads parents to behavioral research which suggests formulating a comprehensive plan to address the behavior appropriately with evidence-based principles and interventions.