What is “Behaviour” really?

Behaviour – the basics

You have probably heard the expression “all behaviour is communication”, but how many of you have stopped and given this expression more than a moment of thought?

When I say “behaviour” to you what do you what do you immediately thing? Do you think in terms of “challenging behaviours” or “behaviours of concern”? Or do you think of it in bigger terms? Do you think of behaviour in terms of “every microscopic thing a person does or says, be it good bad or indifferent, is a form of behaviour and that behaviour is communicating something”.

Some behaviours we do are primordial and instinctive, some reactive or protective. All are designed to get something we want or need. We do most of them unconsciously.

Let that sit for a moment and think about it, it is a huge concept to get your head around.

All behaviours are a series of chain reactions, they are reactive and never exist in isolation. Something must happen before for the behaviour to occur.

Social Experiment 1

 Have 2 random participants get up and introduce themselves to each other, while remaining participants choose one of the actors and observe the process of their interaction.

Fill in the steps as you see them, look out for micro expressions and instinctive behaviours, humans have some interesting ones.

This is a purely scientific pursuit, so don’t make guesses on why it is occurring, just note that it is.

Suggestions to look out for…

Did they smile? When

Did they shake hands?

Did they mirror each other’s body language?

Was their body language open or closed?

What was the pitch of their voice indicating?

Some of the behaviours seen in greeting other people are instinctive, as we are a socially geared species, some are remnants of our more primal selves and some we do as learned behaviours accumulated over our life time.

Behaviour is not an island

Behaviour doesn’t just happen out of nowhere.  When we are trying to understand why a behaviour is occurring we need to look at the before, during and the after. The ABCs of behaviour analysis. There is no step in the process that is any less important than the other, they are all necessary to understand the hows and whys.

Often we hear stories of kids being sent home or getting in trouble because of their reactive behaviour. This system of reactive management will rarely work as a means of changing behaviour, as it is not looking at the whole process. It is often not the child who lashes out who’s behaviour needs to change, but the environment that the child is in that causes them to lash out in the first place.

You often hear “he just lost it out of nowhere” or “he punched her for no reason”. This is NEVER the case. All behaviour happens for a reason and never ever occurs as an isolated incident.

What is the person getting out of the behaviour?

The final aspect of truly understanding behaviour is understanding that for a behaviour to persist and be reinforced the individual MUST be rewarded in some way. This includes behaviours that are already occurring and the new ones we want to encourage. Our brains release dopamine and oxytocin making us feel good and reinforcing the behaviour. Our brains are simply not designed to work any other way.

The reward may be that they are sent home, that they get what they want, that people leave them alone. It could be anything. Once we are rewarded for the behaviour we strengthen the neural pathways that have given us that reward. Once the neural pathway is established the brain will instinctively escalate to the point just prior to the reward.

Learned behaviours

As some of you already know, I recently attended a paediatric appointment to begin the assessment process for our 3rd child. We were given a survey style assessment to fill out because the pead wanted to know if his behaviour was something he had learned from his autistic siblings. I really had to bite my tongue. I don’t communicate effectively in an unanticipated situation, without pre-prepared scripts.

This short sighted view of behaviour makes me a little crazy, as it just goes against the principals of behaviour analysis and our neurological wiring.

You may already know I have 4 children. My oldest has classic ASD, the next is an aspie, the third we suspect is also an aspie and the fourth we are just watching, but I think may just have traits. All 4 of my kids are very different, none copy the others behaviour.

My 12 year old has a unique technique to self regulate. He does laps around our backyard and hums/moans to himself. He will do this several times a day, for anywhere between 5 and 15 mins. He has done this for years. He gets very good sensory feedback from this activity so it is highly rewarding and motivating for him.

When our youngest was about 2 and our oldest about 10, she decided to follow and copy her older brother. She persisted with this for about a week and then gave up the activity. So why did my oldest persist with the behaviour and the youngest quit so quickly? There was no pay off. She didn’t get any reward out of the activity so she did not persist and the behaviour was not reinforced, so no new neural pathways were made.

When we talk about learned behaviours we mean behaviours that are not instinctive or primal, ones that we learn as a reaction to our life situations, environment, experience and cognitive understanding. These are not behaviours that happen because they are copied

Discussion time

Breaking down a behaviour