“Behavior” is a lightning rod word in the autism community. Are we all on the same page when we talk about it?

Spread the love

Behavior (1)

“Behavior” is a huge concern in the autism community. Yet, when we talk about “behavior,” we’re actually using a technical term that has a specific meaning. Since so many issues in the autism community relate to “behavior,” it’s important that we all talk about the same thing!

The Mirriam-Webster on-line dictionary states that behavior is:

  1. the manner of conducting oneself
  2. anything that an organism does involving action and response to stimulation
  3. the response of an individual, group, or species to its environment (1)

The Iris Center for the study of disabilities says:

“Behavior is something that a person does that can be observed, measured, and repeated.” (2)

Autism expert Dr. Martin A. Kozloff explains:

“…behavior is movement. The two are the same thing. Whenever we use the word ‘behavior,’ we are talking about movements of the body. … (W)e use the word ‘behavior’ only when we are talking about movements that we can really observe (see or hear).” (3)

To summarize:

  • Behavior is “movement” of the body. (We “behave” by moving our hands, arms, feet, legs, torso, vocal and facial muscles.)
  • Behaviors can be seen or heard.
  • Behaviors can be observed, counted, and charted.
  • Behaviors are responses to factors in the environment.

When parents and professionals work together to observe and count physical movements (behaviors) of the child, and take note of the factors in the environment at that time, information comes to light that explains why, and under what circumstances, the child performs those physical movements (behaviors). At that point, decisions can be made and plans put into effect to address the situation scientifically and effectively.

Here’s an easy way to train your eyes to see your child’s “behaviors” as “physical movements of the body.”

Download a free copy of the Child Observation Chart. Set a timer for five minutes and observe your child. Write down how she moves her hands, arms, feet, legs, torso, vocal and facial muscles. If he vocalizes, write down descriptions of the sounds to the best of your ability.

At the end of the five minutes, stop, and review your list. You may be surprised. You may see things that you hadn’t noticed before.

  • What did you see?
  • Did anything surprise you?
  • What struck you when you looked over the chart?

If you have insights to share, please write them into the comments at the end of this article!

When you know what “behavior” is “physical movement” you can address it effectively

When you know that “behavior” is “physical movement” of the body, you won’t waste time and energy on uninformed guesses or emotional, judgmental reactions, such as:

  • “he’s a good boy”
  • “she’s a bad kid”
  • “he knows how to push my buttons”
  • “she’s doing that for attention”
  • “they’re mad because their friend didn’t come yesterday”

You will be able to observe the child’s physical movements (i.e., “behaviors”), take note of factors in the environment, and take appropriate action. Most importantly, we’ll all be using this lighting rod of a word with the same understanding.


1.     The Open Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, http://www.merriam-webster.com/, 22 April 2016.

2.     Bicard, S. C, Bicard, D. F., & the IRIS Center. (2012). Defining behavior. Retrieved on 22 April 2016 from http://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/wp-content/uploads/pdf_case_studies/ics_defbeh.pdf.

3.     Martin Alan Kozloff, Educating Children with Learning & Behavior Problems, (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1974), pp. 8-9.


autism, solution, TAGteach

What is TAGteach?

TAGteach stands for Teaching with Acoustical Guidance. TAGteach is a teaching and communication method based on the scientific principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

TAGteach enables extremely precise positive reinforcement of behavior by using an acoustical signal to “mark” the behavior – at the precise moment the child performs the behavior! The acoustical signal is a short, sharp sound made by a handheld device (the “tagger”). When the child performs the correct action, the parent/instructor immediately presses the button on the tagger and hands over a treat (candy, treat, token, praise, social recognition, or money) as a reinforcer.

With TAGteach, it is easy to reinforce behaviors precisely, quickly, and intensively. The immediate, accurate feedback and positive reinforcement result in the child performing the correct action more often, and for longer periods of time. With immediate feedback and learning tasks broken down into small steps, children (and adults) can learn many new skills with TAGteach — at their own pace.

To learn more about this effective, low-cost method visit TAGteach International or Chaos to Calm

Join the free TAGteach for Learning, Behavior, and Autism Facebook group

TAGteach taggers available here and i-Clicks available here

See Martha’s book about TAGteach for Autism or feel free to ask me a question (with no obligation).

Sign up for my mailing list to receive updates, new articles and free tips right in your inbox!

If you liked this post, please share it. Thank you!



Spread the love

Martha Gabler

Autism parent. Director, Kids' Learning Workshop LLC. Author of Chaos to Calm: Discovering Solutions to the Everyday Problems of Living with Autism.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.