Functions of Behavior

May 13, 2015

One of the fundamental components of an ABA program is understanding of the function of a behavior. When we are able to determine why someone does what they do, we can teach a more appropriate way to get what they want or need. There are four primary functions of a behavior: sensory, escape, attention, and access to tangibles.

Sensory: It just feels good

Escape: Something that I do not want to do is removed, get out of something

Attention: People around me are paying attention to me

Access to tangibles: I get something that I want


Identifying the function of a behavior is something that can be done at home. The first step in identifying the function of a behavior is collecting ABC data (antecedent-behavior-consequence). This type of data allows us to see what happens immediately before a behavior occurs, what the behavior specifically looks like, and what happens right after a behavior.

Example: While his mom is cooking dinner, her child begins to run around the kitchen in circles and coloring with crayons on the walls. His mother is yelling at him to stop coloring and sit down, but he keeps coloring and running. She then begins to chase him, continuing to yell at him to stop. He is observed to giggle and continue to run around the house. If I was to fill out an ABC data sheet for this behavior, it would be recorded as:

Antecedent: Mom cooking dinner

Behavior: Running around the kitchen in circles and coloring with crayons on the wall

Consequence: Chased and yelled at by mom

From data such as this example, we can begin to have a better understanding of why someone does what they do.  It is most helpful if ABC data can be collected in many settings, such as school, home, and in the community.  Below is an example of a ABC data sheet that can be used to begin collecting data on the behaviors that you are experiencing.  For further assessment or your child’s behaviors, contact us at [email protected]

ABC Data Collection

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