Understanding the Functions of Behavior

by | Mar 7, 2022 | ABA

It is important to know that all behaviors happen for a reason or purpose.  These reasons are known as functions.  These functions maintain the behavior.  When dealing with a behavior, the behavior itself is not as important as the function of the behavior. The four functions of behavior are escape, attention, tangible (access), and sensory. Every behavior serves one or more of these functions.


  • Escape is any behavior that allows an individual to avoid, delay, or end something unpleasant.  Escape behaviors primarily function as a way to stop a task that is in progress.  Escape behaviors may look different for each person but the outcome results in the individual getting out of or avoiding a task. For example, when a child is presented with a task, such as doing a chore, the child may begin to engage in tantrum behavior or will leave the area completely.  Behaviors can be avoidant as well.  This means that an individual will engage in a certain behavior to prevent something from happening or to get out of doing the task altogether.  For example, a child will hide his or her homework so when the time comes to complete it they can say they do not know where it is.


  • Attention-seeking behaviors allow the individual to receive attention as a result of engaging in certain behavior.  The behavior provides a reaction from others.  The behavior may look different for each person but the outcome results in attention from others.  For example, when a child is opening cabinets in the kitchen and taking everything out,  a parent will tell the child “Stop,” “No,” “Put that back please.”  Although this is a redirection, it is still providing the child with the attention he or she is seeking.


  • An individual may engage in certain behaviors to gain access to an item or activity.  The behavior may look different but the result is the person or child receiving an item or activity that they want. For example, when a child is at the store with his or her parents, he/she will ask for an item.  When parents say no the child will engage in behaviors (e.g., crying, screaming, falling to the floor) in order to gain access to that item, hoping parents will buy it for them to get them to stop the behavior.  


  • Sensory behavior is a behavior that an individual engages in because it feels good or relieves something that feels bad.  Sensory-seeking behaviors look differently for each individual.  Examples of sensory-seeking behaviors include holding hands close to the face or eyes, walking back and forth, rocking, lining objects up, chewing on items, clapping, spinning, and making repetitive vocalizations or movements.  

Identifying the function of a certain behavior can help to decrease difficult behaviors and increase appropriate behaviors. If you have any questions or concerns with your child’s development and behavior, give us a call at TEAM 4 Kids.


Nicole Balistrieri, BCBA