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Understanding the Four Functions of Behavior in ABA Therapy

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Hey parents! Ever wonder why your child does what they do? Understanding your child’s behavior can sometimes feel like solving a mystery. Well, in ABA therapy, we use something called the four functions of behavior to figure it out. Let’s explore what these functions are and how these techniques can help us support our children with ABA therapy at home better.

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What Are the Four Functions of Behavior in ABA Therapy?

Mother And Autistic Child Playing With Blocks

1. Attention (Social Attention)

When your child does something to get your attention, like calling out or tapping your shoulder while you’re busy, that’s seeking attention! It’s their way of saying, “Hey, look at me! I want to interact with you.”

2. Escape

Sometimes, your child might try to get out of something they don’t like. For example, if they start crying or saying they feel sick to avoid doing their homework, that’s escape behavior– they’re trying to avoid the task by acting out.

3. Access to Tangibles

This one’s about getting stuff they want. Maybe your child grabs a toy from another kid because they really want to play with it. That’s seeking access to tangibles – they’re trying to get something they desire.

4. Automatic Reinforcement (Sensory Stimulation)

Sometimes, behaviors happen because they feel good or comforting to your child. For instance, rocking back and forth, spinning in circles, or repeating certain phrases might provide sensory stimulation that feels satisfying or calming to them.

Understanding the Importance of the Four Functions of Behavior

Now that we know the four functions, let’s talk about why they’re so crucial. ABA therapists use something called the ABCs of Behavior – Antecedents, Behaviors, Consequences – to understand what triggers your child’s actions and what follows afterward.


These are the things that happen right before a behavior occurs. Maybe it’s a loud noise, a demand, or even just being bored. Identifying these triggers helps us understand why your child behaves a certain way. If your child throws a tantrum every time you ask them to turn off the TV, the request to turn off the TV is the antecedent.


This is what your child does – their actions or reactions in response to the antecedents. So in the TV example, the tantrum would be the behavior.


These are the results or reactions that follow the behavior. It could be something they get, like attention or a break, or something they avoid, like a chore or a scary situation. If you were to allow 5 more minutes of TV time post-tantrum, that would be a consequence.

Steps RBTs Take to Analyze the Four Functions of Behavior

In ABA therapy, RBTs, (Registered Behavior Technicians) are like behavior detectives. They watch closely, take notes, and work with parents and teachers to understand why kids do what they do. By doing this, they figure out how to help kids learn new things, stop behaviors that might be causing problems, and teach them how to regulate emotions. They keep checking to see if their plan is working and change it if needed. For a detailed look at the tasks they perform, see the RBT Task List. This teamwork helps kids grow and do better!

Can a Behavior Have More Than One Function?

Yes! Sometimes, a behavior serves more than one purpose. For example, a child might hit another child to get their attention (seeking attention) and also to take a toy away from them (access to tangibles).

How to Monitor Progress with the Four Functions of Behavior

Tracking progress is key! RBTs keep a close eye on how your child’s behaviors change over time. This monitoring process includes regularly updating behavior charts, ABC (Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence) logs, and other data collection tools to document changes in behavior frequency, intensity, and duration. Additionally, RBTs collaborate closely with parents and other members of the therapy team to gather feedback and insights on your child’s progress.

How to Teach Replacement Behaviors After Identifying a Function of Behavior

Once we understand why a behavior happens, we can teach your child new ways to express themselves. For example, if they seek attention by interrupting, we can teach them to raise their hand. If they try to avoid tasks, we’ll help them with coping strategies like taking deep breaths. For behaviors like grabbing toys, we’ll teach them to ask politely, and for more intense scenarios such as aggressive outbursts, targeted ABA therapy for aggressive behavior can be especially effective. Through consistent practice, your child can learn these new behaviors, reducing harmful behaviors, and improving their communication and social skills.

Want to Understand More About The Four Functions of Behavior?

Understanding the four functions of behavior is a game-changer in how we support our children. This approach is deeply rooted in the foundational strategies developed since the history of ABA therapy. At Heartlinks ABA Therapy, we’re dedicated to harnessing this understanding to empower your child’s growth and development. Our ABA therapy programs are tailored to meet your child’s unique needs, providing comprehensive support and guidance every step of the way. If you’re eager to learn more about how ABA therapy can make a positive difference in your child’s life, Heartlinks ABA Therapy Services is here for you. Let’s team up and create a brighter future for your child together!

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