Types of Behavior Function {Why is that behavior occurring?}

Categories: Data | Interventions

Everyone has been there. In line at a crowded grocery store. An exhausted mom. A persistent toddler. The gleaming, shiny perfect candy bar. The toddler starts with whining, then some tears and before you have a chance to flip through the latest issue of US weekly that toddler is in full meltdown mode. He’s on the floor, there is kicking, screaming, yelling, the whole nine yards. The mom is embarrassed, tired, and just wants her kids to be quiet. Can you blame her? She grabs the candy bar and desperately hands it over. The crying stops and all is right in the world. The toddler climbs back into the cart with a head full of new knowledge. Tantrum = candy bar. What do you think is going to happen next time they go grocery shopping?

ABA looks at the function of behaviors. Function = why you do something/what you get out of it/reinforcer. Every behavior has a function. Every single one. Everything everyone does results in some type of reinforcement or some reason why you do it. A key component of ABA is figuring out what these reinforcers are and changing the environment to cause increases or decreases in behaviors. 

1. Attention (tangible)

Behavior is functioning to get positive or negative attention. The attention can come from peers or adults. Negative behavior can sometimes be just as reinforcing as positive behavior for some individuals! Or behavior is functioning to gain access to a tangible item. The item can be food, electronics (iPad, etc.), or even access to play area. 

2. Escape

Behavior is functioning to get out of something. It could be to get out of a work activity, demand, specific environment (like the noisy cafeteria or over stimulating gym), or social situation. 

3. Sensory

Behavior gives some type of internal and natural reinforcement to the individual (ie: the child would do this if they were alone).

Looking for more resources?

Snag this awesome handout on behavior function as well as guided steps and plans for identifying the function of behaviors in your classroom in our Behavior Plan Flow Charts and Tools. This is one of my favorite resources!! 


  1. Hi Sasha,
    I am an ECH Teacher in S. Florida working closely with a student who would benefit from some of the social supports/visuals you have on your site. Specifically, the cards you have printed “Leave me alone, please. Let’s talk.” etc. Are they available? If so, where can I find them? Please let me know. Thanks! I love your site!


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