ABA Therapy and Behavior Functions

A Quick Guide for Parents

Like other sciences, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has unique terminology that becomes second nature for professionals in the field. But for everyone else, it can sound like a foreign language.

So, for all the wonderful parents out there who are new to ABA therapy or just want a refresher, this article explains the term ‘Behavior Functions’ and why it’s important to identify them when treating children with autism and other developmental concerns.

What Behavior Functions Are

Behavior Functions, also known as Functions of Behavior, is a fancy way of referring to the reasons why a specific behavior occurs. Once it’s determined why a behavior occurs, an ABA therapist can work on redirecting the behavior or use therapy to replace the behavior with one that is more desired.

Four Categories of Behavior Functions

There are four categories of Behavior Functions (or reasons that behaviors occur): Sensory, Escape, Attention, and Tangible. You might hear these categories referred to by the acronym SEAT. (We love acronyms in the field of ABA therapy.)

  • Sensory (or Automatic Reinforcement): This is when a child wants access to stimulation or to avoid pain. Hand flapping and repetitive motions, like twirling toys and pen tapping, are examples of behaviors with a sensory function. Generally, behaviors with a sensory function don’t require access to or assistance from others.
  • Escape (or Avoidance): This is when a child wants to avoid or delay a non-preferred task. With escape or avoidant-related behaviors, you might see your child walking or turning away from you. They could also give you a verbal refusal or display any behavior that will help them get out of, avoid, or delay a task they don’t want to do.
  • Attention: This is when a child wants attention from others. Behaviors (good and not so good) with attention functions are any behaviors that are meant to get your attention, including crying, screaming, throwing or hitting something, and even saying ‘excuse me.’
  • Tangible: This is when a child wants access to preferred reinforcers also known as rewards. Behaviors with tangible functions are any behaviors from a child who wants access to their favorite things, like toys, food, or electronics.

Methods for Identifying Behavior Functions

There are different methods for identifying behavior functions. One simple way is to interview a child’s parents. Interviews can help direct your behavior analyst to look for a potential behavior function.

We also use the ABC method. (Another acronym!) This method involves the review of a single instance of a behavior, paying attention to the Antecedent, Behavior, and Consequences that maintain the behavior. Here’s what all that means:

  • Antecedent – An antecedent is what happens right before a behavior. For example, your child hasn’t had a cookie in a while.
  • Behavior – The behavior is what happens because of the antecedent. For example: Your child asks you for a cookie.
  • Consequence – The consequence is what happens directly after a behavior. For example, you give your child a cookie.

If cookies are reinforcing or rewarding to your child, they may reinforce the future likelihood that they’ll ask for one again. We can conclude, then, that the behavior of asking for cookies is maintained by giving the child access to tangibles. In other words, the behavior has a tangible function.

The scenario above is a simple example of determining potential behavior function for the purpose of teaching. Behavior in general can be a lot more complicated and require closer examination through a complete functional behavior assessment and data analysis over time. You can practice the ABC model at home to see if you can start identifying potential behavioral functions!

If you’d like to have a functional behavior assessment completed for your child, The Behavior Exchange can help! Call 972.312.8733 or email us for more information.

P.S. Look for Watson’s Word of the Day posts on Facebook and Twitter to learn more ABA therapy terms!





Ashvina attended University of Bombay and graduated with a Bachelors of Commerce. She got her Montessori Diploma in 1985 and taught ever since. Ashvina came to TBE in January of 2016 as Admin Assistant. During the years she got the opportunity to learn and work in different departments such as HR, Finance, Office Manager and Executive Assistant. Last summer TBE bought billing in house and her current focus area is Revenue Cycle Management. She is detail oriented and enjoys working with people. Ashvina volunteers to deliver meals to seniors and local shelters on the weekend. She loves to spend time with her family and grandkids. Ashvina loves her job because she enjoys hearing different points of view, and she feels her contributions help fuel the direction of our company.

Working with children comes naturally to Angela. Her mom was a special education teacher for 30 years and often had Angela join her for Take Your Child to Work Day. And in high school, Angela spent every summer as the nanny for a little boy with an autism spectrum disorder. It was this experience where her passion for working with children with autism started to blossom.

From there, she went on to graduate from Oklahoma State University with a Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Sciences. She learned about Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) in a non-normative development class and from that moment knew that ABA would be her life’s work.

Angela moved to the DFW area shortly after and began working at The Behavior Exchange as a therapist. She worked on her Master’s in Behavior Analysis at the same time. A year after graduating, she earned certification as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

Now, as a Clinical Director at The Behavior Exchange, she brings a life-long passion to her work, holding a special place in her heart for children with limited language skills and working closely with families to develop healthy sleep habits.

Danielle’s passion for working with families is deeply personal and from the heart. Her younger brother has an autism spectrum disorder, and through their journey as a family, she found her purpose in life as an advocate for individuals with special needs.

After graduating from the University of North Texas with a degree in Human Development and Family Studies, Danielle began volunteering at The Behavior Exchange. She saw passionate therapists, meaningful change for clients, and families with hope for the future. After a summer of volunteering, she officially joined the team as Director of Admissions and found her home with The Behavior Exchange family.

With her extensive experience working as a client advocate with insurance providers, Danielle perseveres to help individuals of all ages and abilities receive the services they need to reach their full potential. She feels truly honored by each and every family who entrusts The Behavior Exchange to be part of their journey and is committed to the organization’s core values, mission, and goal of being a beacon of hope for the community.

Adam has always had a passion for helping individuals of all ages thrive and reach their full potential. He’s also an enthusiastic musician, songwriter, leader, and devoted family man, who has been helping children and team members grow with The Behavior Exchange since 2010.

Prior to joining the team at The Behavior Exchange, Adam was a mortgage loan consultant and grad student, pursuing his master’s degree in Education at the University of North Texas. He graduated in 2013 and also earned a graduate academic certificate in Autism Intervention. The following year, after years as a Behavior Therapist and seeing first-hand the power of ABA and the meaningful impact it can have on children and their families, Adam became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. He then commenced from the Stagen Leadership Academy after completing the Integral Leadership Program (ILP), a 52-week practice-based program designed to develop executives serious about transforming themselves, their teams, and their organizations.

Adam is truly grateful to be a part of a dynamic, inspiring and compassionate team, and he’s dedicated to bettering the lives of all children and their families through the delivery of the highest quality of ABA services, while supporting the amazing team at The Behavior Exchange.

Soraya is from South Africa and moved to Texas in 1996. She graduated from The University of Texas and pursued a career, at that time, in Education. Soraya taught at a Montessori school for a few years and then took on a leadership role.

During her time in the education system, Soraya realized her passion was to assist children with special needs. So she joined The Behavior Exchange as a therapist, transitioned into a supervisory role in 2017, and a year and a half later, was promoted to Clinical Operations Manager.

She quickly learned the ins and outs of ABA operations and scheduling and successfully collaborates across departments to ensure The Behavior Exchange continues to provide quality services to clients and their families. She’s thankful to be part of such an amazing organization and excited to see what the future holds.

You could say Walter’s career started when he spent hours as a young child drawing superheroes and coloring maps. This passion, along with extraordinary swimming skills, landed him a full swimming scholarship at Texas Christian University, where he graduated in 1997 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Communication Graphics.

During the next 13 years, his design and art direction skills, conceptual-thinking abilities, and marketing-savvy know-how were honed at a few prestigious advertising and marketing agencies around the Dallas area. In the mid 2000s, he helped his wife Tammy Cline-Soza (founder and CEO of The Behavior Exchange) create a unique and concise brand for her new business. From logos and websites to uniforms, brand voice and visuals, Walter has been the main creative force for all things The Behavior Exchange.

Aside from giving birth to The Behavior Exchange brand, Walter is helping Tammy raise two amazing, beautiful children, River and Sierra. In his spare time (the two minutes he’s got per week), you can find Walter illustrating iconic landmarks of Dallas and Texas or looking around for this next open-water swim. Once he gets back in shape.

After 20 years of building The Behavior Exchange, literally from the ground up,
Tammy couldn’t be more proud of the team, culture, and organization that it has become.

As a family helping families, The Behavior Exchanges looks for opportunities that will make the biggest impact and produce life-changing outcomes – for clients, families, and even for team members. Tammy believes that if a team, a family, a community takes care of each other, the possibilities are endless and the relationships built along the way can make life more enriching and challenges easier to navigate. You could say her goal has been to build a kind of utopia full of support, love, and expertise that brings the best services possible to the community and ensures more families have access to those services.

Tammy and her family have dedicated their lives to the mission of The Behavior Exchange and continue to grow, learn, cultivate, challenge, support, and create better models for success. To that end, she is committed to her own leadership development and actively participates in advanced training, mentoring, and deep self-exploration on how to live out her purpose to love and support her family and help others reach their full potential. She takes her position very seriously and tries to serve as a channel for what the universe wants to come to fruition.

She also loves travel, gardening, being creative, MUSIC!, tennis, yoga, meditation, journaling, reading, being in nature, adventures, and more than anything, spending time with her husband Walter and their two beautiful children, River and Sierra.