The Behavioral Function of Four Operationally Defined Behavior Problems with Varying Topographies (Self-Hitting, Hitting Others, Self- Biting, Verbal Abuse) in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Rebecca Hartman Zaja

Advisor: Johannes Rojahn, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Robert Pasnak, Theodore Hoch

Psychological Clinic, Classroom
June 21, 2011, 12:00 PM to 08:30 AM


Behavioral interventions for challenging behavior are chosen on the basis of the behavior function, rather than on the basis of the behavior topography. Challenging behaviors in individuals with intellectual disabilities are heterogeneous in both form and function.  Previous research suggests there may be a relationship between the form and the function of challenging behaviors.  However, few studies have examined the extent to which the specific topographies of a challenging behavior are predictive of their behavioral function. Individuals who exhibited either self-injurious or aggressive/destructive behaviors were further subdivided into four target behavior groups: hitting self (n = 14), hitting others (n = 17), biting self (n = 7) and verbal abuse to others (n =15). Three functional assessment rating scales (Questions about Behavioral Function [QABF; Matson & Vollmer, 1995], the Functional Assessment for Multiple Causality [FACT; Matson et al., 2003], and the Functional Analysis Screening Tool [FAST; Iwata & DeLeon, 1995]) were completed by caregivers to determine the functional properties of these behaviors.  Three separate multivariate analyses of variance (MANOVA) were performed to compare the functional properties of these behaviors.  Across all three rating scales, hitting self was more highly associated with the Nonsocial and the Automatic/Self Stimulation functions than hitting others. No significant differences were found between the subscale rankings on any of the rating scales for the hitting self compared with biting self (i.e., comparison between two self-injurious behavior topographies), and verbal abuse to others vs. hitting others (comparison between two aggressive topographies).  These findings suggest that within the broader categories of challenging behavior, there was not a significant amount of variation by specific topography in terms of functional properties.  However, across the broader behavior categories, there was a significant difference in functional properties for certain subscales.