Understanding the Function of Behavior in a Therapeutic Preschool Program

One of the most important aspects of working with children is understanding the function of their behavior. This is especially true when it comes to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental delays. This is also one of the most challenging aspects of working with children, because every child is a unique learner with unique abilities and needs. In a therapeutic preschool program, it is important to understand the function of behaviors, especially for children who are receiving applied behavior analysis therapy (ABA therapy).

What does “function of behavior” mean?
If someone refers to the “function” of behavior, they are referring to the cause (or “why”) of a given behavior. Functions of behavior are also grouped into different categories: seeking sensory stimulation, seeking attention, seeking an escape, or seeking a material(s). The function of behavior is interesting, because two children can exhibit the same behavior (e.g. crying) for two completely different reasons. Understanding the function of a particular behavior is of great importance for children with autism or developmental disorders that impact the ability of a child to use expressive language to communicate their feelings.

The different functions of behavior:
Seeking sensory stimulation: If children experience challenges with processing sensory information, they may behave in a certain way to receive sensory stimulation. For example, a child may flap their hands in front of their face for a self-soothing effect. If a particular sensory-seeking behavior is inappropriate, the instructors of a therapeutic preschool program may examine the function of that behavior to replace the negative behavior with a positive behavior.

Seeking attention: Children may exhibit a behavior in hopes of gaining the attention of their teacher, therapist, parent, or another adult in the room. While there are appropriate ways to receive attention, there are also inappropriate ways to gain attention (e.g. crying or yelling). A therapeutic preschool program may work with children with delayed expressive communication to build positive strategies to receive attention.

Seeking an escape: A child may behave in a particular way to avoid or escape a certain situation (e.g. throw a tantrum to try and escape circle time). Understanding the function of this behavior can help the therapist to resolve the problematic behavior.

Seeking material(s): Children may behave in a particular way when they are trying to receive an object or material. For instance, a child might grab an iPad from their classmate if they want a turn and are unable to use verbal communication to express this desire. Understanding the function of this behavior is important, because it helps the therapist to identify goals for the child in a therapeutic preschool program.

What skills are targeted in a therapeutic preschool program?
Children who are enrolled in a therapeutic preschool program often experience delays in key developmental skills, such as speech and language, feeding, behavior, cognition, or other areas. As a result, it is important for the teachers and therapists in the program to spend time determining the function of their students’ behaviors.

In order to target these different areas of development, a therapeutic preschool program may emphasize different therapies, including ABA therapy, feeding therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. Understanding the function of behavior can play an important role in any of these areas.

Are you interested in learning more about the function of behavior and therapeutic preschool programs in Chicago?
Click the purple button below or call 773-620-7800 to contact CST Academy, Chicago’s #1 therapeutic preschool program, which offers services to target pivotal developmental skills.