Advanced Behavior Analysis

Addressing Inconsequential Behaviors

As behavior analysts, we are formally trained to analyze only what is observable and measurable. While that has value in the right contexts, it’s also important to identify internal states that may be driving behavior. This helps us get to the root of the issue, rather than simply just addressing the tip of the iceberg (e.g. behaviors we can physically see).


When a child is dysregulated, feels unsafe, or is lacking connection, they may engage in what we perceive as “maladaptive behaviors”. In reality, this could be the nervous system’s way of producing a stress response. Perhaps the child does not have the emotional maturity or communication skills to behave in a way that is functional or appropriate.  Our goal is to identify a child’s developmental level and teach them adaptive and functional skills in a way that makes sense to them.


Representation of an iceberg - 90 percent underwater

Consider that behaviors which adults may perceive as annoying or disruptive may be the child’s way of seeking regulation. As parents and caregivers, we are our child’s co-regulator. It is our responsibility to help them engage in healthy behaviors to keep their sensory systems happy. 

Happy child on a later summers evening

 When we set up an environment that is safe, connected,  and reinforcing, our kids are less likely to engage in “maladaptive” behaviors. This doesn’t mean that adults have to entertain their kids 24/7. But we can try to provide options and resources to help them develop independent and positive play skills.

What is ABA?

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is best known for its success in treating individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities (e.g., Down syndrome, intellectual disabilities). Treatment in this area is effective across an individual’s lifespan (i.e., childhood, adolescence, adulthood). In young children with developmental disabilities such as ASD, the goal of intensive, comprehensive intervention is to improve cognitive, language, social, and self-help skills. Decades of research have shown that intensive ABA treatment is the most successful approach for children with autism, and it is widely recognized by a number
of sources including the U.S. Surgeon General, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Institute of Mental Health. When applied to older individuals, ABA involves teaching behaviors essential to functioning effectively in the home, school, and community. ABA can also decrease severe problem behaviors that endanger health and safety, and limit educational, residential, or vocational options. (BACB, 2021)

ABA is a science devoted to understanding and improving human behavior. ABA focuses on socially significant behaviors and research-based strategies to improve targeted behaviors by using objective description, measurement, and experimentation to demonstrate reliable relations between interventions and the behavioral improvements (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2017).

Music lesson with kids

Applied behavior analysis focuses on the prediction and control of socially important behavior. Behavior includes anything an individual does while interacting with the environment, including observable behavior and private events. ABA focuses on objective measurement and analysis of the environmental variables of which problem and appropriate behaviors are functions (Fisher & Piazza, 2015)

Fisher, W.W. and Piazza, C.C. (2015). Applied Behavior Analysis. In The Encyclopedia of Clinical Psychology (eds R.L. Cautin and S.O. Lilienfeld).


Presume Competence

“Rather than labeling individuals as “low functioning” or “high functioning,” we should recognize that people with autism vary in their ability to demonstrate competence. Our responsibility is then to presume, find, and strengthen that competence. “ John P Hussman, Hussman Institute for Autism

One of the first and most important steps in preserving dignity and improving the lives of autistic individuals begins with presuming competence. This means understanding that everyone has the ability to think, feel and grow, even if not immediately obvious on the outside. Behavior is communication. Behavior does not just happen randomly.

Presuming competence means that we respect that behavior is motivated by a number of factors, including: a physiological need, physical discomfort, frustration, the need to communicate, sensory needs, etc. Behaviors which are observable to us may be communicating a more covert event taking place for the individual.

Allowing constant unrestricted access to communication systems (i.e. AAC, PECS etc.) is imperative. Presuming competence means that we assume the person is attempting to communicate through their behavior, and offer a mode of communication with the necessary assistance to help meet their need. A lack of verbal language does not necessarily equate low intelligence. Language delays or difficulties may not always stem from cognitive deficits.

Promoting Autism Acceptance in Society

Autistic children are extremely capable of developing skills that help them live their “best life”. The individual characteristics that each child possesses should be championed and capitalized upon. By no means should their uniqueness be taken away while developing a plan to help your child live within the boundaries of this great big world.  


We strive to help children develop themselves while respecting the differing abilities they possess. For example, it is critical to understand that stimming (or self-stimulation) is an important human behavior that helps with emotional and sensory regulation. To some degree or another, every human uses repetitive physical movements or vocalizations to help them cope with all levels of feelings. Have you ever heard someone hum a tune while working? Or how about bouncing their foot under the table at dinner? 
We respect the bodily autonomy of children by listening to their voices and their physical cues. Our team does their best to use the least intrusive and least restrictive measures to help children learn, cope and grow. We want to see all autistic humans successfully included in classrooms, social settings, and workplaces.
Autism awareness is essential, but Autism acceptance is crucial for promoting widespread inclusion in society. Acceptance encourages empathy and understanding, which will, in turn, promote change. To help this change occur, we strive to provide education and insight on the autistic experience.

Suggestions for inclusivity:
-Spend time learning about autism
-Listen to autistic voices
-Presume competence
-Invite autistic peers to parties and events
-Demonstrate understanding instead of pity
-Identify areas of interest and utilize that as a teaching strategy or social interaction
-Create a flexible environment by offering choices
-Encourage children to invite neurodiverse peers to participate in play, even if the child seems uninterested or disengaged…their participation matters
-Be mindful of sensory sensitivities