All posts by John Mann

Behavior Therapy for Kids

Identifying the Function of Your Child’s Behavior: Automatic

There can be multiple reasons for why a child may engage in problem behaviors. In ABA, the reason behind the behavior is also known as the “function”. By knowing the function, one can utilize strategies to prevent or act as a replacement for behaviors that may be considered socially inappropriate.

Today we will be discussing one of the four functions of behavior “automatic”. What exactly is considered an “automatic” behavior? Automatic behaviors can include repetitive movements or sounds. Automatic behavior looks different for each child, and can include:

  • Hand Flapping
  • • Repetitive finger movements
  • • Repeated vocalizations
  • • Toe walking
  • • Spinning objects

These behaviors are considered to be an automatic function as each child may receive sensory stimulation from engaging in behaviors. The behavior itself is reinforcing to the child. These behaviors are often considered to be automatic as they occur when your child is alone, or no demand has been placed on them.

How does one handle automatic reinforced behaviors? There are several strategies that can be utilized to help with reducing this behavior. Some of those strategies include: Teaching replacement behaviors for automatic reinforcement is key to reducing these behaviors.

  • Ignoring/blocking the behavior
  • • Teaching the child a socially acceptable behavior

The following scenario is an example of how these strategies can be applied to helping decrease automatic maintained behaviors:

A child is engaging in hitting tables or hard surfaces due to receiving reinforcement from the sound of the banging. While ignoring the behavior, provide a replacement behavior of giving your child an appropriate instrument to play or perhaps a toy to kick or bounce.

Your child can be taught this skill by modeling how to properly engage in the replacement behavior. This is just one example of how replacement behaviors can be taught to your child that is engaging in automatic behavior.

Being able to find socially appropriate reinforcers that are functionally equivalent to their automatic behaviors can be challenging at times. What is considered to be a functionally equivalent behavior?

This is considered to be actions or activities that are similar to the automatic behavior that your child is engaging in. It is important to remember to pick out activities that are similar to the behaviors your child is engaging so they receive the same sensory input they get from engaging in the socially inappropriate behaviors.

For example, giving your child a puzzle to complete as a replacement behavior when they are banging their hands on the table would not be considered functionally equivalent. Providing them an instrument to engage with would be more appropriate as it is a similar activity to hitting their hands on the table (both provide auditory stimulation).

One strategy that I have used in the past is write down a list of behaviors that a child engages in for automatic reinforcement that we are wanting to find a replacement behavior for. This will look different for each child. Some of these behaviors could look like:

  • Staring at lights
  • • Staring at objects lined up
  • • Squeezing hands together

Once I have identified these behaviors, I then write down a list of possible replacement behaviors for the automatic reinforcement. These replacement behaviors can be simple, however have to be functionally equivalent to the behaviors your child is receiving automatic reinforcement.

Some of these replacement behaviors can include:

  • Looking into a kaleidoscope (replacement behavior for staring at lights)
  • • Lining up trains, pushing the trains (replacement behavior for lining up objects to stare at)
  • • Giving your child play doh or a stress ball (replacement behavior for squeezing hands together)

Identifying and reducing automatic maintained behaviors for your child can be difficult. At JoyBridge Kids, partnering with parents through parent training, we focus on how to identify the function of your child’s behaviors.

Our mission is to create and deliver life transforming experiences for the kids and families that we serve. We believe that by utilizing these strategies to redirect these automatic behaviors, we can make a huge positive impact on your child’s life!

By: Nick Sobieralski, BCBA, LBA

Contact JoyBridge Kids

To contact a member of our team, please give us a call at 615-560-6622 or complete our online contact form.

Autism and Behaviour Consulting Services

Identify the Function of your Child’s Behavior: Access

“Why does my child act that way?!”

This is a question every parent asks at some point along their journey while raising children.

Finding out the reasoning behind your child’s behavior can be a big challenge. While it may be a complex question to understand why a child is engaging in these behaviors, there will always be an underlying function.

Once the reason, or function,  is identified, strategies can be used to assist in preventing these behaviors from occurring.

We can also find how to properly react to the behaviors if they are observed. In this discussion, we continue our exploration of the four functions of behavior focusing specifically upon: access maintained behaviors.

Access maintained behaviors can have many different topographies (forms). Often individuals will engage in this function to gain access to:

  • Tangible items
  • Activities

Individuals may engage in certain behaviors to gain access to these items/activities, however these behaviors are not always socially acceptable. Some of these problem behaviors a child engages in may include:

  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Yelling/screaming
  • Property destruction

Once the function of a child’s behavior has been identified as access maintained behaviors, there are several antecedent and consequence strategies that can be utilized to help decrease these problem behaviors! This is a long way of saying there are awesome solutions available to help.

Antecedent strategies are used to assist with preventing the behavior from happening. Some antecedent strategies to help with access maintained behaviors include:

  • Functional communication (Teaching your child how to appropriately ask for the item)
  • Premack principle (First then statements to indicate when reinforcement is available)
  • Visual timers (Set a timer to indicate when your child can have access to the reinforcer)

These are just several antecedent strategies that can be used effectively. While antecedent strategies are often helpful, it is crucial to understand how to implement consequence strategies with your child if they do engage in access maintained behaviors.

Consequence strategies are used to decrease problematic behaviors. Ultimately these can help eliminate these behaviors with work and focus.

Consequence strategies will depend on the function of a child’s behavior. Some of these strategies, which are  based off of access maintained behaviors, may include the following:

  • Differential reinforcement (Teaching and reinforcing appropriate behavior to gain an item. EX: Instead of reinforcing yelling for a toy, your child says “Can I please have the toy?”, and then receives reinforcement for that socially appropriate behavior.
  • • Functional communication (Once your child is no longer engaging in the problem behavior, provide them the appropriate communication to gain access to the item/activity).
  • • Extinction (Putting a behavior on extinction requires for the specific behavior to not be reinforced. For example, if your child is engaging in yelling for attention and receives reinforcement they will continue that behavior. If that behavior is ignored, and they don’t receive reinforcement for yelling, that specific behavior can begin to decrease).

The scenario below is an example of how one can use the strategies listed above to handle access maintained behaviors:

Your child is outside playing with his/her sibling, when one of their siblings takes away their toy. Your child begins to scream and cry for access to the toy. There are several consequence strategies that can be used in this situation. One crucial strategy would be functional communication.

After your child stops screaming for the toy, prompt them to appropriately ask for the toy back from their sibling. After this is done successfully, give your child behavior specific praise for gaining access to the toy appropriately. Functional communication can also be used as an antecedent strategy in this situation.

When the toy is taken away, quickly prompt your child to ask for the toy back before they begin to engage in the screaming behavior. Again, provide behavior specific praise for them asking to have access to the toy again.

Like the other functions of behavior, access maintained behavior can be difficult to handle with your child but there are many excellent ways to help your child find positive paths to grow.

We believe that sharing concepts like understanding access as part of our parent training will be a significant factor to your child’s success while receiving services here at JoyBridge Kids.

Our team of BCBAs are thrilled to work with you and your family to ensure the proper steps are taken for your child to make socially significant gains to hopefully find  an overall improved quality of life.

By: Nick Sobieralski, BCBA, LBA

Contact JoyBridge Kids

To contact a member of our team, please give us a call at 615-560-6622 or complete our online contact form.

ABA Therapy Tennessee

Identifying the Function of your Child’s Behavior: Attention


The four functions of behavior help us understand why our children display certain behaviors. By understanding the function, or “Reasoning” behind the behavior, we can identify various antecedents (What happens before the behavior?) and consequence strategies (What was the reaction to the specific behavior?) to help you and your family react in a way that decreases likelihood of continuous behaviors. Today’s topic will be on the function of “Attention”.

The utilization of antecedent strategies is essential to helping your family prevent the problem behavior from occurring. It also helps identify triggering events. What exactly are antecedent strategies? They are designed to alter the environment to assist in preventing a problem behavior from ever occurring in the first place.

These are strategies you and your family can utilize to help prevent problem behaviors from appearing. Some antecedent strategies that can be used based on “attention” maintained behaviors include:



  • Noncontingent reinforcement (Providing reinforcement in this instance in the form of “attention” frequently to where your child does not want to engage in the problem behavior to gain your attention)
  • Functional communication (Teaching your child how to gain your attention in an appropriate or even kind way)
  • Preference assessments (Give your child choices while they wait for your attention)
  • Premack Principle (First then statements to indicate when your attention is available. EX: FIRST let me talk on the phone, THEN I will come play with you)

While implementing these antecedent strategies, it is important to remember that these are used PRIOR to the behavior. Identifying and implementing these strategies, as well as knowing triggers signs to those behaviors, will help reduce the likelihood of the behavior developing.

Your reaction, as a parent or guardian, is important! These reactions will either lead to an increase in the behavior or put that behavior on extinction (The behavior no longer occurs). Consequence strategies are an essential concept that will be covered during parent training at JoyBridge with your BCBA.

These are strategies we use to help reduce these behaviors AFTER they occur. Some of these consequence strategies may include:

  • Ignoring (By ignoring these specific behaviors, this teaches your child this is not an appropriate way to gain your attention)
  • Modifying the environment (stepping away from the child, or leaving the room)
  • Blocking (while minimizing attention as much as possible)
  • Differential reinforcement (Providing praise for the behavior you are wanting to see acts as a replacement for the undesired behavior)

The scenario below is an example of how you and your family can utilize these strategies based on the function of “Attention”.

Attention Example: You are at home having a conversation on the phone. Your child comes up to you and begins to hit you for your attention. The function in this specific scenario is attention.

One way to handle this behavior would be to ignore hitting as much as possible. This can be done by stepping away from your child, holding your child’s hand or moving to another room. By doing so, this teaches your child that hitting is not an acceptable way to gain your attention.

Providing specific praise for waiting for you to get off the phone, tapping you on the shoulder, or say “excuse me” are excellent ways to teach your child how to appropriately gain your attention without engaging in behaviors such as hitting.

By identifying the function of a behavior, and utilizing antecedent and consequence strategies provided you and your family will be able to:

  • Prevent/limit the behavior from occurring
  • Learn how to react to these specific behaviors
  • Teach your child appropriate ways to gain your attention

Learning ABA concepts and how to implement them can be challenging and new for families. Our JoyBridge Kids team will work with you and your family to identify practical strategies that will help your child make socially significant gains to help reach an overall improved quality of life!

By: Nick Sobieralski, BCBA, LBA

Contact JoyBridge Kids

To contact a member of our team, please give us a call at 615-560-6622 or complete our online contact form.