As we learned in the previous unit, we can use ABA as an intervention for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We do this through behavior management and skill repertoire building. Behavior management helps us reduce challenging or problem behaviors, and skill repertoire building helps us teach new behaviors. We will first focus on behavior management and the reduction of problem or challenging behaviors.
Before we learn the techniques for changing behavior, we first have to know what is causing the problem behavior. Behavior is anything that a person says or does. This can include both public behavior and private behavior.
Public behavior refers to things that occur externally that other people are able to observe happening. Examples of public behavior include
Many aspects of behavior can be “challenging” or “problematic” and, therefore, require treatment. With some behaviors, the need for treatment is obvious, while other behaviors are only problematic under certain circumstances or when they affect the patient’s quality of life.
Typically, treatment is warranted when the behavior
We have two ways in which we can describe behavior: topography and function.
Each of these options illuminates the room, but they have a different topography. They look very different, and each of them lasts a different amount of time (i.e., the time it takes for the flashlight batteries to die, for the candle to burn out, or even for the power to go off or lightbulb to burn out).
EXAMPLEThere are many ways to open a bag of chips. You can tear off one corner, grab each side and pull the bag open, or get a pair of scissors and cut the top off of the bag. The end result of all of these is that the bag is open so you can now devour your delicious chips. But each had a different topography and looked and sounded different.
EXAMPLEFor instance, if you yell “STOP!” as loud as you can while a stranger is running toward you, people might immediately turn to see what is going on and check if you need help. On the other hand, if you quietly read stop as it is written on a stop sign that is directly in front of you, the response might be very different and it would not appear very out of the ordinary.
The function of a behavior identifies the reinforcement that maintains the behavior, and so it helps us learn how to respond effectively to the behavior.
EXAMPLEThink about the previous example of getting light in a room: the function of the behavior is to produce or access light in the room.
EXAMPLEConsider the previous example about the bag of chips: the function is to gain access to the chips that are in the bag.
Functional reinforcement is reinforcement specific to the function of the behavior.
EXAMPLESuppose you have just returned from running several miles and, as soon as you enter the room, you ask your friend in the other room to bring you a bottle of water. The function of your behavior is to gain access to water – you just ran and you are really thirsty! When your friend brings the bottle of water to you, that is the reinforcement.
Let's look at an example of an individual engaging in object stereotypy to better explain the difference between topography and function. The topography of this behavior is the shaking or manipulating of objects with her fingers in a repetitive motion typically within her line of vision. The function has been determined to be automatic, meaning the behavior itself feels good, and the individual gains pleasure from engaging in the sensory stimulation of moving the necklace with her fingers. Both topography and function are necessary to identify in order to appropriately intervene with a targeted behavior.