A teacher friend called me the other day to ask me a question about a student in her class. She said,
“Arielle, I don’t understand why this student screams every time I work with him. He is fine when he works with his aide or my co-teacher. Why does he hate me?”
Instead of jumping to the conclusion that the student hates her, I suggested she take ABC Data** to determine the function of the behavior. Below, I will show you step by step how to determine the function of a behavior once you have your behavior data.
**Don’t know what ABC Data is or how to take it? Click here to check out my post all about ABC Data. You’re going to need behavior data in order to determine the function of the behavior.
Analyze the Data
You will need a minimum of three days of explicit behavior data in order to accurately determine the function of the behavior but the more the merrier! This means, you are intentionally observing the student and their surroundings to note the antecedent (what happens before), the behavior, and the consequence (the response from the behavior.)
Once you have collected your ABC data, you are going to want to look for any patterns you may see in the the data. Patterns you may be looking for are (but are not limited to!) the time of day the behavior occurs, who is around, the subject you are working on and how you respond to the behavior.
Determining the Function
The first thing you must consider when you are determining the function of a behavior is if the behavior is a result of a medical need. For example, is the student experiencing a change in medication or is it possible that they are injured? If you can cross a medical need off of the list, you can move on in determining the function of the behavior.
Once you have ruled out a medical need as the function of the behavior, you only have four other options. They create the acronym SEAT. Remember, the function of the behavior is WHY the student is emitting this behavior.
A: Attention (positive or negative!)
What if Two Functions Fit?
It is possible that more than one function seems to match why the student is emitting the behavior. If that is the case, there is typically a primary function and a secondary function. Take a closer look at which function seems to occur more, or have a higher intensity of the behavior.
In the example of my friend’s data, we noticed that the student emitted the behavior most often at the times when the student was asked to transition or to begin academic work. It seems as though he is screaming in order to avoid or delay the initiation of the task, which would make the function escape.
You can also see that there are a number of occurrences when the child’s behaviors illicit laughter, or remarks from peers. This could indicate a secondary function of attention. Negative attention (getting in trouble, being tattled on, being laughed at, etc.) is still attention!
What do I do now?
Now that you know the function of the behavior, you can create a plan for the student to access what they are seeking in a non-contingent way. For example, this student may need more time to prepare for transitions. A visual schedule may help him so he knows exactly what to expect and when. You would also want to provide reinforcement for all the moments that the student isn’t screaming. You can see my post on types of behavioral supports here. Verbal praise is always a great way to provide reinforcement AND positive attention in one!
A Last Reminder
Behavior is often thought of to be the negative actions of an individual. Remember, ANY response to a stimuli is a behavior. Every behavior does not need to be changed. It is up to you (and your data!) to determine if the behavior is maladaptive and needs intervention.