Advances in Neurodevelopmental Disorders

, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 206–215 | Cite as

Topography and Function of Challenging Behaviors in Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Esther Hong
  • Dennis R. DixonEmail author
  • Elizabeth Stevens
  • Claire O. Burns
  • Erik Linstead


Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are at a greater risk for challenging behavior than individuals with other developmental disabilities. An essential step in the treatment of these behaviors is the identification of the function of the behavior. In the current study, data were collected from a large database, in which supervising clinicians from a community-based behavioral health agency recorded the topography and function(s) of behaviors treated as a part of an individual’s behavior intervention plan. In a sample of 3216 individuals (mean age = 10.67, SD = 4.61) with ASD, the frequency of the most common challenging behaviors and the identified function of the behavior were examined. Stereotypy was the most commonly reported topography, followed by noncompliance and aggression. Overall, escape was the most commonly reported function of behavior. To further evaluate how clinicians operationally define these behaviors, a part-of-speech text analysis was conducted and found a high degree of overlap in the operational definitions of challenging behavior (i.e., aggression, disruption and tantrum; noncompliance and tantrum; obsessive behavior and stereotypy; self-injurious behavior and aggression). These data are discussed in further detail.


Applied behavior analysis Autism spectrum disorder Challenging behavior Function Topography 


Author Contributions

EH: designed and executed the study, assisted with the textual data analysis, and wrote the paper. DDR: designed the study and assisted with data analyses and writing of the study. ES: wrote software and analyzed the data. COB: collaborated in the writing and editing of the final manuscript. EL: analyzed the data and wrote the methods and results.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

For this type of retrospective analysis, formal consent was not required.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Esther Hong
    • 1
  • Dennis R. Dixon
    • 1
    Email author
  • Elizabeth Stevens
    • 2
  • Claire O. Burns
    • 1
  • Erik Linstead
    • 2
  1. 1.Center for Autism and Related DisordersLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Schmid College of Science and TechnologyChapman UniversityOrangeUSA

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