Return to Blog home

How to Best Identify the 4 Functions of Behavior

How to Identify the 4 Functions of Behavior 

Any behavior that an individual displays always has a purpose or function behind it. By identifying the function of the behavior, it will assist to develop proactive and reactive strategies based on the problem behavior and teach the individual better and appropriate ways to communicate their needs based on that function. First, we will need to know what those functions are. There are 4 functions of behavior, which are: 

  • Access 
  • Escape 
  • Attention 
  • Sensory  

A way that I am able to identify a behavior function is by observing what happened before the behavior

  1. Access 

In this behavior function, the individual behaves in a certain way to get a preferred item, edible, or activity. For example:  

  • You and the individual are driving back home and are nearly passing the individual’s favorite fast food restaurant. The individual asks if you can buy food there and you responded, “No, we have food at home.” After hearing no, the individual yells and screams.  

In this example, the individual was denied access to their favorite fast food, which lead to their behavior of yelling and screaming. To practice identifying the behavior function for access, please view this video  

  1. Escape 

In this behavior function, the individual behaves in order to get away from doing an undesirable activity or from interacting with another person. For example:  

  • You and the individual are in the kitchen and you ask the individual to put away the dishes. After hearing your instruction, the individual runs out of the kitchen. 

In this example, after giving the instruction of putting away the dishes, an undesirable activity, it led to the individual’s behavior of running away. To practice identifying the behavior function for escape, please view this video  

  1. Attention 

In this behavior function, the individual behaves in a certain way in order to gain social interaction or a reaction from other people. For example: 

  • You are on the phone having an important conversation. You feel something hit your back and turn to see the individual a few feet away. The individual notices you looking, giggles, and looks back at you.  

In this example, as your attention is placed on something else it leads to the behavior of the individual throwing an item to gain your attention and wait for your reaction. To practice identifying the behavior function for attention, please view this video

  1. Sensory  

In this behavior function, the individual’s own movement or actions provides a form of internal stimulation for them. In other words, it is doing something that only feels good to them. Here are two examples of how sensory can look like: 

  • The individual is rocking back and forth. 
  • The individual plays and twirls their hair.  

In these examples, we see that sensory stimulation does not rely on anything that happened beforehand and is something the individual does that is pleasing to them in some way.  To practice identifying the behavior function for sensory, please view this video

  1. How Identifying the Behavior Function Helps 

The following shows how identifying the function can help during your work as a Behavior Technician: 

  • We were working at the table and after providing a low preferred task instruction that was on the visual board, the individual began to make faces and wiggle around in their chair.  

Knowing this was after I gave a low preferred instruction, I could tell that the individual’s behavior function was escape. Thus, I used the following strategies

  • Premack Principle: “First answer the last question, then you can go on the trampoline” 
  • Escape Extinction: I did not provide access to escape following those behaviors, and waited for the response 
  • Prompting: I pointed back to the board 
  • Follow through: I followed through with the instruction. This way my client learned that making faces, does not result in escape.  
Post - Pin - Email