Why does he do that?! (Why You Should Use Functional Assessments)

A functional analysis is just one of the many assessments we here at Behavior Rescue offer, and can be a useful tool for determining the why behind a behavior for any child or adult. A review, completed by The Meadows Center, summarized their findings based on functional analyses in 10 particular cases.


Although results cannot be generalized to all children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, some key findings in this study included:

  • Completing a thorough, well-planned functional analysis is necessary to accurately determine a possible reason for the behavior.
  • Automatic reinforcement is really hard to compete with. In this study 8 of 10 behaviors were reinforced by automatic reinforcement (usually internal enjoyment or biological responses).
  • 2 individuals demonstrated behaviors that were reinforced by multiple methods. Behaviors that involve multiple systems of reinforcement are often very difficult to target as there are several responses to control. (i.e., If a tantrum often gets me attention and a toy, parent attention, peer or community attention, and toys all have to be removed when I tantrum).
  • The researchers suggest that this study supports the idea that individuals on the autism spectrum may be more likely to have a nonsocial function for their behaviors.


Although the results are interesting, it would not be illogical to assume that individuals with social deficits (by nature of an Autism diagnosis) would be more likely to engage in behavior that provides nonsocial reinforcement. The study abstract could; however, be interpreted to suggest that individuals with an Autism diagnosis are not reinforced socially. This may be true in some cases, or social reinforcement may be less reinforcing (or rewarding) to some individuals, but it certainly is not an absolute. Again, it supports the necessity of conducting functional analyses on high priority behaviors before attempting to intervene or developing replacement behaviors to make sure the appropriate modifications are being made. Assumptions are often incorrect, and may actually increase an undesirable behavior, when implemented without data and analysis.

Study Citation

O’Reilly, M., Rispoli, M., Davis, T., Machalicek, W., Lang, R., Sigafoos, J., & Didden, R. (2010). Functional analysis of challenging behavior in children with autism spectrum disorders: A summary of 10 cases. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 4, 1–10.

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6 Responses to Why does he do that?! (Why You Should Use Functional Assessments)

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