Behavior analytic research tells us there are four functions of problem behavior. You can remember them with the acronym “Everybody EATS.”
E- escape (to escape a demand, situation, or consequences)
A- attention (to gain the attention of someone else)
T- tangibles (to gain access to something tangible)
S- sensory (for sensory input or automatic reinforcement)
Behavior analysts have a few tools to determine the function of problem behaviors- functional behavior assessments or functional analyses. These things are to be done by a certified professional. Find a Board Certified Behavior Analyst near you.
But can this knowledge of the 4 functions help parents? Sure! While a mom shouldn’t just be running functional analyses as a part of daily family life, she can use these 4 functions to help with planning and decision-making.
Today, let’s just look at the E- escape.
Proactively there are things we can do to help prevent escape-maintained problem behaviors (the big word for this is antecedent intervention).
We can make sure our children know how to escape something (or someone) appropriately. Teach them how to say “no thank you”, how to walk away when upset, and how to ask nicely for what they do want. When you are first teaching these things, honor them.
My daughter often asks for a few more minutes of playtime. She wants to escape the demand of whatever chore has ended play time- time to wash hands, come to the table, pick up your toys, etc. When she first acted out, I realized she didn’t know how to ask for what she wanted- to keep playing. So I prompted her to say “I’m not ready” or “Can I have a few more minutes?” When she did that correctly, I’d give her an extra one or two minutes to play.
This meant that if we were in a hurry to get out the door somewhere, I needed to get her ready to go a little earlier to be able to honor her “I’m not ready” request that was inevitably coming.
Over time, I was able to say no to those requests when they weren’t appropriate. I still try to give her a few more minutes when she asks politely as much as possible. The beautiful thing is that one extra minute of play time can be a really big deal to a toddler. That’s all it takes.
I also don’t prompt her by giving her the full sentence. Instead, I’ve been able to fade out to indirect prompting such as “What do you need?” or “Do you want to ask me something?"
By teaching her an appropriate way to escape and reinforcing her for using it, we’ve prevented so many problems.
That’s the tip of the iceberg when it comes to escape maintained behaviors- but boy is it a good place to start to prevent as many problems as you can!
There’s a TON of information out there about the functions of problem behavior. Here are a few links about escape maintained behavior:
Project Autism gives more ideas for how to teach appropriate ways to escape
The Autism Helper gives other ways to intervene antecedently on escape maintained behavior, specifically in a school setting
The I Love ABA blog describes escape maintained behaviors more thoroughly
This article talks about teaching essential skills to prevent problem behavior
My article at bSci21 gives more ideas to prevent problems during transitions
Remember, leave determining the function to a BCBA. But anyone can implement some positive supports and teach some appropriate behaviors to prevent problems from ever happening in the first place!
Leanne Page, MEd, BCBA