Interesting Functions Of Behavior

Interesting Functions Of Behavior

Do you have now, or have you ever had a child who engaged in challenging behavior?

If so, you may have been given or asked to participate in the creation of a behavior plan.

IDEA states that a behavior plan is based on a functional behavioral assessment.

A functional behavioral assessment is considered an evaluation that, through data collection and observations hypothesizes the function of behavior. Once you have a data-driven hypothesis, a behavior plan (if necessary) would be created, which should include strategies and interventions that address the behaviors and their functions.

There is a function behind all behavior.

Take a second to think about your own behavior. Do you bite your nails, do you play on Facebook for a few minutes instead of finishing that report? I could go on and on, but you probably get where I am going.

When we think about our students or children, understanding the function of their behavior may help us respond in a way that creates change and not more or different challenging behaviors.

Interesting Functions Of Behavior;

There are four types of function in regards to behavior;

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  • Sensory/Automatic
  • Escape
  • Attention
  • Tangible

Let’s take a more in-depth look into each behavior and some examples of each.


This function is sometimes referred to as self-stimulatory. The behaviors are not dependent on anything other than the behavior itself. The behavior itself is reinforcing to the person.

Some examples of Sensory behaviors would be: repetitive body motions such as, but not limited to- hand flapping, leg shaking, spit play, chewing on fingers, nail-biting and could also include some self-injurious behaviors.


Behaviors with an escape function are meant to do just that, escape from whatever has been presented to the person immediately before the behaviors. To stop or avoid something is what is reinforcing.

Some examples of Escape/Avoidance behaviors would be: Aggression, spitting, (to get people to leave them alone), running away, crying, whining, masturbation and self-injurious behavior.

Think about it like this – there’s a child in the classroom who was given an assignment and does not immediately start it. Instead, he throws his pencil and gets up to roam the room. This is an example of escape behavior that has been reinforced.


Behaviors with an attention function are those that are done to elicit attention.

Attention can be positive or negative. Sometimes, attention is so reinforcing that it can be negative (ex. behavioral correction) or positive (ex. praise). Any attention that maintains the behavior is reinforcing.

Some examples of Attention behaviors would be: calling out in class, nose picking, aggression, elopement, and unsafe climbing.

Think about it like this – a child is climbing on a bookshelf in a classroom. Every single time the teacher walks over, tells him to get down and then physically pulls him down, the child goes back to the activity they should have been doing. This is an example of attention-seeking behavior that has been reinforced.


Behaviors with a tangible function are to obtain an object or item. This function is pretty straightforward that a person engages in a behavior to get something.

Some examples of Tangible behaviors would be: yelling, screaming, and aggression.

Think about it like this – You’re in a store with your child at checkout. There are rows of candy bars. Your child starts screaming for one. You give it to them to stop the screaming. This is an example of tangible behavior that was reinforced.

These examples of behaviors are not an end-all list, but instead just collection of some behaviors you may encounter. Each person and their behavior is unique and must be treated as such.

FBA’s (Functional Behavioral Assessment) and BIP’s (Behavior Intervention Plan) should be individualized to the person they are about.

As a teacher and a special education tutor, I am constantly aware of my actions and how they may be affecting children around me. As you develop a greater knowledge in this area, you will help your child develop in a way that truly maximizes their potential (and decreases your stress level substantially)!


Picture of Nicole Adamski, MA

Nicole Adamski, MA

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