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Some people label more than 4 functions or reasons for behaviors. Sometimes it can be tricky to know exactly why a person is doing something. However, if you know why, you can come up with a correct response. You do not what to inadvertently reinforce the wrong behaviors. This page will highlight 4 of the most common. Individuals engage in a behavior because they usually find one of the following items reinforcing:

Escape/Avoidance of a Situation

(EX. Work, Uncomfortable clothes, loud noise, touching water)

Gaining Attention

(EX. from the adult, from another child)

Gaining a Tangible Item

(EX. food, toy, book, teacher’s materials)

Sensory Input

(EX. mouthing objects, spinning items, hands in ears)

These are some indicators that are typically evidence of one function or another.  This list is not limited to these items only, because students are individuals, sometimes a student’s behavior can have more than one function.

Escape Function

Indicators of escape/avoidance reinforcement could be:

The individual engages in the behavior when a task is presented.

The individual engages in the behavior when a new activity begins.

The individual engages in the behavior when a stimuli they view/perceive as aversive is presented.


The behavior ends when the student is allowed to leave the activity.

Gain Attention Function

Indicators of attention gained reinforcement could be:

Attention (words, eye contact, body language) reliably/usually follows the behavior.

The individual looks at or approaches a caregiver before engaging in the behavior.

The individual smiles just before engaging in the behavior.

Gain a Tangible Item Function

Indicators of access to a tangible item reinforcement could be:

The individual’s behavior ends when given the item or activity.

The individual asks for/requests the item.

The individual’s behaviors occur after it is clear that they cannot have the item they want.

The individual’s behavior occurs when the item is not presented fast enough.

Gain Sensory Input Function

Indicators of sensory reinforcement could be:

The individual would engage in the behavior even when other people are out of the room.

The individual appears to be engaging in the behavior because they need sensory input (ex. Pushing up against others, mouthing objects, squeezing others, banging tables, hands in ears, rolling on the floor, running around the room, getting up out of seat, etc.)

The individual appears to be enjoying the behavior, not aware of others around them, not being presented with a work activity, and not attempting to gain access to something.

The individual appears to be attempting to avoid a specific type of sensory input.

NEXT STEPS:
Click here for the Behavior Plan page.
Click here for the Strategies to Respond to Each Function Behavior Intervention Ideas page.