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Functional Behavior Assessment: Process & Implementation

Empower your parenting with functional behavior assessment, a key to understanding your child's autism behavior.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
June 11, 2024
9 min read
min read

Understanding Functional Behavior

When dealing with autism, understanding functional behavior becomes pivotal in managing and improving behavioral outcomes. In this context, functional behavior refers to the cause-and-effect relationship between a behavior and its consequences.

Importance of Functional Behavior Assessment

A Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) is a systematic process used to determine the function of a student's behavior and the factors that maintain it. This approach helps parents and teachers design interventions to teach more acceptable behaviors [1].

For instance, consider the example of Cheralynn. Her behavior of acting out was aimed at avoiding class work, and the negative reinforcement was her being sent out of the classroom. An FBA in this situation can help identify these patterns and suggest effective interventions.

In situations where basic classroom management techniques and behavioral interventions are ineffective at addressing challenging behaviors, conducting an FBA becomes particularly relevant. This is especially the case when behaviors occur frequently and disrupt the learning environment [1].

For more detailed information on who conducts an FBA and how long the process takes, you can refer to our articles on who conducts functional behavior assessment and how long does functional behavior assessment take.

Key Components of Functional Behavior

Functional behavior can be understood by examining different components: the behavior itself, the antecedent (what occurs before the behavior), and the consequence (what happens after the behavior). These are the core elements of an FBA and are crucial in identifying the reasons behind a particular behavior.

Analyzing these components allows parents and educators to understand the purpose or "function" of the behavior, whether it's to gain attention, escape from a task, or get access to a tangible item. An FBA provides the necessary groundwork for designing effective interventions that meet the child's needs while promoting more acceptable behaviors.

Remember, each child is unique, and a one-size-fits-all approach may not work. An FBA ensures that interventions are tailored to the specific needs of students, promoting positive behavioral outcomes.

To start with your own FBA, refer to our functional behavior assessment checklist for a step-by-step guide.

Process of Functional Behavior Assessment

Understanding the behavior of children with autism can be a complex process. A tool that can aid in this understanding is the functional behavior assessment (FBA). This assessment helps to identify the function of a child's behavior and the factors that maintain it, making it a valuable method for designing effective interventions.

Conducting a Functional Behavior Assessment

The process of conducting a functional behavior assessment involves several steps. It begins with observing the child in the environment where the behavior occurs. The goal is to identify the antecedents (what happens before the behavior) and the consequences (what happens after the behavior).

For example, in Cheralynn's case, as described by the IRIS Center - Vanderbilt University, the function of her disruptive behavior was to avoid class work. The negative reinforcement for her behavior was being sent out of the classroom, which enabled her to avoid the work.

In instances where basic classroom management techniques are ineffective at addressing challenging behaviors, an FBA can be particularly useful. This applies especially when behaviors occur frequently and disrupt the learning environment, as in Joseph's case [1].

To get a more detailed idea of what an FBA involves, you can refer to our functional behavior assessment checklist.

Professionals Involved in the FBA Process

The FBA process typically involves education professionals such as behavior analysts, school counselors, and special educators. These professionals often hold credentials like BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst), indicating their specialized training in behavior analysis.

Each professional involved in the FBA process plays a unique role. For example, behavior analysts might lead the assessment process, school counselors could offer insights into the child's emotional and social environment, and special educators may provide strategies for implementing interventions within the classroom setting.

Understanding who conduct functional behavior assessment can offer clarity on the roles and responsibilities during the process. It's important to note that the FBA process is part of multi-tiered systems of support, providing increasingly intensive and individualized levels of support for behavior [1].

Conducting a functional behavior assessment is a crucial step in understanding and managing the behaviors of children with autism. By identifying the root causes of a child's behavior, professionals can design targeted interventions to help the child develop more positive behaviors.

Implementing Interventions

Once a functional behavior assessment (FBA) has been completed, the next step is to implement interventions based on the findings. These interventions aim to address behavioral issues by modifying the environment and teaching new skills.

Designing Interventions based on FBA

The insights gained from the FBA process can inform the design of interventions tailored to meet the specific needs of the child. The objective of these interventions is to replace the problem behavior with a more appropriate behavior that fulfills the same function. This involves reinforcing the desired behavior and modifying the conditions that trigger the problematic behavior.

These interventions are not one-size-fits-all. Instead, they are crafted based on the unique needs and circumstances of each child. Factors such as the child's developmental level, the nature of the problem behavior, and the identified function of the behavior are taken into account.

The effectiveness of these interventions depends on their consistent and accurate implementation. Therefore, it's essential for the professionals who conduct the functional behavior assessment to work closely with parents and caregivers. This collaboration ensures that the interventions are applied consistently across different settings, increasing their effectiveness.

Multi-Tiered Systems of Support

Functional behavioral assessments are often part of multi-tiered systems of support. These systems provide increasingly intensive and individualized levels of support for behavior, such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) [1].

At the first level, universal strategies are implemented school-wide or across all home settings to promote positive behavior. If these strategies are not sufficient for some students, more targeted interventions (second level) are used. For students with persistent or severe behavioral issues, individualized interventions (third level) are designed based on the findings of the FBA.

These multi-tiered systems ensure that interventions are tailored to the specific needs of students, promoting positive behavioral outcomes. They represent a proactive and systematic approach to managing behavior, which can be more effective and sustainable in the long run compared to reactive measures.

In conclusion, the implementation of interventions based on an FBA is a critical component of behavioral management for children with autism. By understanding the function of problematic behaviors and using this knowledge to design targeted interventions, parents and professionals can make significant strides in promoting positive behavior change.

Data Collection for FBA

A critical step in the functional behavior assessment process is data collection. Understanding and documenting the behavior provides a solid foundation for intervention design.

Direct Observations and Data Collection

Direct observations are instrumental in the data collection process of an FBA. They offer insight into when, where, and how often a behavior occurs, as well as how long it lasts [2]. Typically, an objective observer should collect the data, which aids in understanding the behavior before implementing an intervention.

Baseline data should ideally be collected over three to five observational periods before implementing an intervention to ensure a representative sampling of the behavior [2]. This data is then compared to data collected after the intervention to determine its effectiveness.

For example, baseline data was collected for a student named David, where an observer recorded the time spent off-task during a 10-minute independent work period. This data helped in understanding the extent of the off-task behavior [2].

Observation PeriodTime Off-Task (in minutes)1324324453

ABC Model in Behavior Analysis

The ABC model (Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence) is a fundamental tool used in the functional behavior assessment. This model is used to identify the factors that lead to problem behavior, the behavior itself, and the consequences that maintain it.

Collecting data over several sessions helps in identifying patterns and developing a hypothesis about the function of the behavior. For instance, if a child consistently exhibits a particular behavior after a specific event (antecedent), and the behavior results in a desired outcome (consequence), the behavior is likely maintained by that outcome.

Alongside data on problem behaviors, data collection on replacement behaviors may also be necessary. Different recording systems may be required for each type of behavior to effectively monitor and address them [2].

The process of data collection in an FBA, including direct observations and the ABC model, plays a significant role in guiding the creation of effective interventions. For more information on who typically conducts an FBA, visit our page on who conduct functional behavior assessment.

Analyzing Behavior Functions

Analyzing behavior functions is a critical step in the functional behavior assessment process. It involves understanding why a child with autism behaves a certain way and what factors may be influencing that behavior. This analysis helps inform the creation of effective intervention strategies.

Functions of Behavior in ABA

In Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), the reason a behavior continues is called the function of that behavior. These functions serve as reinforcers for the child. If the behavior no longer works for that purpose, the behavior will stop and a new behavior will take its place [3].

Traditional models suggest there are 3-4 functions of behavior: access, escape, attention, and automatic. However, Cipani and Schock (2010) expanded on these traditional models to help understand behavior on a deeper level. They describe two primary functions: access and escape. Each function is further categorized based on the type of reinforcer and the mode of access, either direct or socially-mediated [3].

Observation Period Time Off-Task (in minutes)
1 3
2 4
3 2
4 4
5 3

Understanding these functions is critical to the functional behavior assessment process.

Behavioral Diagnostic Systems

Behavioral diagnostic systems, such as the one developed by Cipani and Schock (2010), provide a more detailed analysis of behavior functions. They divide behaviors into two primary categories with subcategories for each: Positive Reinforcement and Negative Reinforcement. Positive reinforcement refers to the addition of a stimulus and negative reinforcement refers to the removal of a stimulus.

Primary Functions Description
Access The child behaves in a certain way to gain access to something they want.
Escape The child behaves in a certain way to avoid something they don't want.

These categories help to further understand the function of a behavior and inform the design of effective interventions. The functional behavior assessment checklist can be a useful tool in this analysis process.

Understanding the functions of behavior in ABA and utilizing behavioral diagnostic systems are key elements in the functional behavior assessment process. They provide valuable insights that can inform the design of effective interventions for children with autism.

Creating Behavior Intervention Plans

Understanding behavior is key in helping parents manage their autistic child's actions effectively. The insights provided by a functional behavior assessment (FBA) offer the foundation for developing an effective behavior intervention plan. This section elaborates on how such plans are developed and the integral role of positive and negative reinforcements.

Developing Behavior Implementation Plans

Functional behavior assessment is key to developing an effective program and tracking an individual's progress. It involves understanding the motivations behind behaviors and focusing on strengthening desired behavior while decreasing problem behavior over time.

A behavior intervention plan (BIP) tailored to the child's needs is an output of an FBA. It provides specific strategies and supports to address the defined behaviors. These strategies might include changes to the environment, teaching new skills to replace the problem behavior, or altering how adults respond to certain behaviors.

The development of a BIP is a collaborative effort involving parents, teachers, and other professionals involved in the child's care. For more information on who might conduct an FBA, see our article on who conduct functional behavior assessment.

Positive Reinforcement and Negative Reinforcement

In Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), the reason a behavior continues is called the function of that behavior. These functions are reinforcers for the child. If the behavior no longer works for that purpose, the behavior will stop, and a new behavior will take its place [3].

Cooper, Heron, and Heward (1987) describe two primary categories of behavioral function with subcategories for each: Positive Reinforcement and Negative Reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement refers to the addition of a stimulus following a behavior that makes it more likely that the behavior will happen again. For example, if a child cleans their room and is then allowed extra playtime, the extra playtime is a positive reinforcer.

Negative reinforcement, on the other hand, refers to the removal of a stimulus following a behavior that makes it more likely that the behavior will happen again. For instance, if a child completes their homework and as a result, does not have to do chores, the removal of chores is a negative reinforcer.

These reinforcements are key components of a BIP, providing motivation for the child to engage in the desired behaviors. It's important to note that what works as a reinforcer can vary from child to child, and what is reinforcing can change over time. Therefore, the effectiveness of reinforcers should be continually assessed and adjusted as needed.

Understanding the function of behavior is a crucial step in managing and improving behavior in children with autism. By making use of the insights provided by a functional behavior assessment, parents and caregivers can develop effective behavior intervention plans, enhancing their child's ability to engage positively with their environment.

References

[1]: https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/module/fba/cresource/q2/p04/

[2]: https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/module/fba/cresource/q2/p07/

[3]: https://masteraba.com/functions-of-behavior/

[4]: https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/irca/articles/observing-behavior-using-a-b-c-data.html

steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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