Dana McCarthy, m.ED, BCBA, LBA | April 25, 2024 | Building Blocks Program

Understanding the Functions of Behavior + Introducing S.E.A.T

“Every child’s behavior is telling us something. Our job is to see the behavior as information, not aggravation.”

Functions of behavior:

There are so many reasons why children behave the way that they do. Why does an autistic child flap their hands? One reason is that it’s in response to a stressful situation. Why does another child bang their head against something repeatedly? One reason is that they do not know how to interpret pain. There are many types of behaviors that help to categorize our kids as having or suspected of having Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Understanding your child’s behavior as a communication.

All communication is considered to be behavior and when you can understand what your child is trying to communicate, you can effectively teach a much more appropriate replacement behavior and see a reduction of challenging behaviors. This is where Applied Behavior Analysis comes into hand.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), is referred to an application of the science of behavior that systematically works to increase skills that aid in the reduction of challenging behaviors and improves the lives of children and families. This is done through reinforcement and teaching strategies based on functional analysis and data collection.

If your child does not have a reliable means of communication or does not understand how to effectively communicate their wants and needs, they may resort to challenging behavior that has had proven results for them in the past. A great place to start is by looking at the functions of behavior to begin to understand them. We use an acronym for these known as: S.E.A.T.

S.-Sensory Automatic- Your child may engage in this behavior because it gives them satisfaction on a sensory level. These types of behaviors can be observed both when the child is in the presence of others as well as when they are alone. If the behavior is not harmful to them or others or causes a barrier to learning we should not worry about reducing these behaviors.

E.-Escape- Your child may engage in this behavior to get out of or avoid an activity that is non-preferred or aversive.

Example: If your child is engaged with their iPad, you remove their iPad and tell them it is time to brush their teeth. Your child immediately throws themselves to the floor and begins screaming. You then remove the task of brushing your teeth and your child stops screaming.

A.-Attention/connection seeking- Your child may engage in this behavior because it reliably allows them to gain attention from others.

Example: You are on the phone talking with a friend and your child wants to engage with you,

your child walks up and slaps you in the face, and you get off the phone and engage with your child.

T.-Tangible- Your child may engage in this behavior to gain access to things they want/enjoy.

Example: Your child is in the kitchen jumping up and down and screaming at you. You begin pulling items from the cabinet and offering them to your child, they stop screaming when you pull out the goldfish crackers, you then give them the crackers and they sit and happily eat them.

When we are looking at these challenging behaviors as communication, we want to actively be working to teach more appropriate means of communication. Once more appropriate communication is established you should see a reduction in these behaviors as you see an increase in functional communication. You should work closely with your child’s speech therapist and ABA staff to establish and increase the use of functional communication while actively working to reduce challenging behaviors.

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