We have talked a lot about functions of behavior. Behavior that can happen to gain access to attention or escape or for sensory purposes. One function we haven’t yet mentioned but can be hugely important and impactful is a medical cause of behavior. Sometimes extreme behaviors may be occurring because the student is in pain. Imagine having a constant headache, upset stomach, or throbbing ear. Could you concrete? Would you be more likely to engage in extreme behaviors? Heck yea. When I have a migraine, if anyone comes even remotely close to me I basically eat their head off.

So we obviously aren’t doctors and maybe we are thinking there is nothing we can do regarding potential medical causes. Let’s talk about some of the action items we can do and some ways that our students may be indicating that they are in pain.

If your ABC data is extremely varied with no clear patterns for common antecedents or consequences, it may be cueing you in to a medical cause behind the behavior. Regardless of the activity or consequence, the behavior continues – there may be something deeper going on. Taking consistent baseline data to show this trend. Demonstrate that behavior is occurring at all times of day under a wide range of settings.

Also look at patterns of behavior related to diet, sleep, and other environmental factors. Consider tracking what a student is eating to see if there any potential links between diet and behavior. For your female students, consider tracking their cycle. Sometimes we see increases in extreme behaviors during the time of the month.

When you’ve gathered some information (ie. data), talk to the student’s parents. Again, we are not doctors so all we can do is share what we have learned based on what we see in the classroom. Ask the parents when the last time the student had a physical was. Ask the parent if they see any the same patterns that you do. If the parent is planning on going to the doctor, offer to summarize and share your data with the doctor. I always advocate open communication with everyone on the child’s team and that includes doctors. If the parents give their consent, share your data in an objective way.

Remember all behavior is communication. Your student may be communicating that they are in pain in some way so be that behavior detective and help them figure it out!