WTF (What’s The Function) Kid?

boy laying down crying

When my Autistic child does something new, out of the ordinary, or just plain weird I say WTF?
Don’t worry, I’m not cussing at the child.

I am asking myself what the function of the behavior is. The function will tell me the “why” that my child may not be able to articulate.
For example, if my son knocks over his brother’s Legos and I ask him why he did it. He will likely respond “my brain made me do it”, he will stare at me blankly, or he will shrug and say, “I don’t know”. Because he doesn’t know why most of the time. Adults barely know why we do things so why would we expect a little one to know their whys?
Another example would be how you like the feeling of a massage, and someone asks you why do you like it and you don’t know the biological reasons why so you say “because it feels good” when the actual why is that the sensory input makes your body relax in ways it normally doesn’t.

That was an example of two out of the four functions of behavior. The function or why for behavior is split into the categories of:
Sensory input
Avoidance or Escape

So back to the kid.
My goal as his mom is to understand him, assist him in helping himself, and to give him a happy healthy existence. To achieve my goal I need to be able to figure out what he wants and needs even when he is unable to verbally tell me, so finding the function of his behaviors is crucial to our success. The best way to explain the way we figure out the functions is to give you examples of how the functions look in action.

When the kid wants something tangible (an object, activity, or food) he will point, say what he wants, or look in the direction of the object and I have to do process of elimination to get to what he is asking me for.
When the kid wants sensory input like tight hugs, he will ram his head into my stomach or legs until I say “hugs?” and he repeats “hugs!” and then we (you guessed it) have tight hugs until he walks away signaling that he is done with hugging.
When the kid wants attention, he will position his body and voice in front of whatever I am doing (watching tv, looking at or talking on the phone, on the computer, playing with someone else, or reading) until I put the thing down or stop what I am doing, look him in the eye and engage him in play until he is satisfied with my interaction.
When the kid wants to avoid doing writing homework, he will sing loudly and jump up and down at the table until I dismiss him from the work he doesn’t understand how to do. If the work needs to be done, then we will stop and come back and do it in pieces with clearer simplified instructions until it is complete.
When the kid wants to escape (from haircuts, from people he does not like, from demands he doesn’t want to complete) he runs away. This one is simple. If he is running from something he is trying to escape. We assess his fear or avoidance and help him escape safely like walking him to the car instead of letting him run to the car in an unsafe parking lot.
The key is that I respond to the correct function. If he stands in front of me wanting attention and I think he wants me to get him a toy (tangible) then he returns to interrupt my activity, I can get frustrated that I gave him something he likes but it wasn’t enough for him. The problem is that I did not respond to his current function. I needed to pay attention to his indicators (this comes from knowing and observing your child) instead of what I automatically assumed he wanted.

Start this process of finding functions by giving yourself some grace. This WTF process takes practice to get more accurate and efficient with time. Eventually your child’s needs and indicators will change with their development and you being a functions pro by then will be able to adapt and adjust to these differences. The function categories are consistent throughout the life time but what the function is indicating for your child will evolve with their likes.
The kid is semi verbal now so he can use his words and pecs book more often to tell me what he wants but sometimes he does not have the vocabulary to express himself or he is too tired/hungry/angry to have time for annoying words. He just wants his needs met and I can meet him where he is and say “ok son, WTF?”

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