Individualizing Functional Analysis to Assess Multiple and Changing Functions of Severe Behavior Problems in Children with Autism

Student Co-author

CGU Graduate

Document Type



Psychology (CMC)

Publication Date



Relatively few published studies have used functional analysis to assess severe behavior problems in children with autism, and virtually none have assessed behaviors maintained by multiple and changing functions. This study extended the use of a traditional functional analysis analogue by examining the functional relations between problem behaviors maintained by multiple and changing functions and specific environmental events. Three children with autism participated in this study. The target behaviors of disruptive behavior and inappropriate vocalizations were observed during periods of brief, repeated exposure to a series of analogue conditions (attention, tangible, escape, alone, and play) using a multielement experimental design. A new condition was added to assess changing functions of a single behavior. Results indicated that problem behaviors were maintained by multiple functions (attention, escape, tangibles, and automatic reinforcement). The new methodology for assessing changing functions of aberrant behavior revealed that contingencies initially applied to the target behavior were associated with changing functions of that behavior during the course of an experimental session. The implications of this study provide social significance in that a clear methodology for studying problem behaviors and what controls them can lead to a decrease in such behaviors and improved quality of life.

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© 2002 Hammill Institute on Disabilities

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