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Functional Behavior Assessment


Functional Behavioral Assessments have been used to try to determine why individuals exhibit specific behaviors and how the environment interacts with the individual and those behaviors. Although this method of analyzing behavior was developed with the autistic and severely developmentally delayed population, it can easily be used to look at any individual with problem behaviors.

The reauthorized Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires that a Functional Behavioral Assessment be conducted if a behavior was a manifestation of the disability or, as appropriate, for other disciplinary removals. Although a Functional Behavioral Assessment is not required until the student has been removed from school for specific circumstances, best practice is to perform such an assessment for any student with disabilities who has problem behavior. This would lead to proactively creating interventions to help the student learn more appropriate behavior. A positive behavior intervention plan is also required by IDEA.

The Individual Education Program Team (IEP team) is responsible for developing an assessment plan to address problem behavior. During the IEP team meeting, the target behavior should be specifically identified and decisions should be made about exactly who will conduct each component of the Functional Behavioral Assessment, when the assessment will be completed and when the IEP team will meet to discuss the assessment and to create proactive behavioral interventions.

Components of a Functional Behavioral Assessment
Any Functional Behavioral Assessment must include these steps - identify and define the specific problem behavior; collect information about the occurrence of the behavior through observation, systematic data collection, and interviews of the child, parents, and staff; identification of the antecedent events and consequences surrounding the behavior; identification of the function or purpose of the behavior; and development of a hypothesis about the behavior. Once the assessment is complete, interventions can be created based on the hypothesis and other relevant information. Each of these steps is explained in more detail below.

Identify and Define the Specific Problem Behavior
When a student with a disability begins to exhibit behavior that is significantly impeding the learning of that student or other students or is resulting in a change of placement for that student, the Individual Education Program Team should meet to look at the specific problem behavior. The team must agree what behavior is creating the greatest problem. At this meeting the behavior must be defined in observable, measurable terms. "Threatens school personnel" is not an adequate target behavior. "Threatens school personnel by aggressive posture, invading personal space, and using verbally threatening and abusive language" is a specific target behavior. This behavior is both observable and measurable.

Plan the Assessment
Once the target behavior has been defined, the IEP team decides what information to collect about the behavior, as well as how it will be collected. The team determines which parts of the assessment will be completed by which members of the team. After the tasks are identified and distributed, the IEP team sets the time and place for their next meeting in which they will look at the information.

Collecting Information
Information about the target behavior should be gathered from all available sources. Interviews should be conducted with the relevant people - the student, the parents or other adults where the student lives, the teacher, other school staff who work with the student, etc. During the interviews questions should be addressed about when the behavior usually occurs, during which activities, who is usually around at that time, where the behavior occurs, how often, and how long the behavior lasts. Find out what happened before the behavior occurred and what usually happens as a result of the behavior. The interviews are also a good time to identify the strengths of the student - what is the student good at doing, what are skills and interests that have been demonstrated. This information can be very helpful in designing interventions as a result of the assessment.

Direct observation of the student in the classroom can provide information about problem behavior. During an observation, data can be collected in a systematic manner concerning the behavior and its setting, the antecedents, the consequences, and possible reasons for the behavior.

A review of the written records about the student - the psychologicals, the Individual Education Program, interventions, and other documentation - can be a valuable source of information. A review of discipline records and incident reports can help look at the history of the behavior and what happened when the behavior occurred in the past.

Analysis of the Data
Once the data is collected, the Individual Education Program Team meets to develop a hypothesis concerning the target behavior. Information from the interviews, observation, and record review is shared within the team. The team determines what usually precedes the target behavior and what appear to be the consequences of this behavior. Then, using all the information, the team tries to determine the function or purpose of the behavior for that student. Generally the student is either trying to get attention, something tangible, or sensory stimulation or trying to get away from attention, something tangible, or sensory stimulation. The team must be aware that one behavior may serve more than one function for the same individual as well as more than one behavior may serve the same function for the same individual.

A hypothesis statement is agreed upon and written by the IEP team. The hypothesis is written in this manner: when this occurs, the student does, in order to. "When this occurs" is a description of the antecedents and setting information associated with the student’s problem behavior. "The student does" is a description of the problem behavior. "In order to" is a description of the possible function of the behavior.

Here is an example of a specific hypothesis statement:
When David is presented with academic work in large or small group settings requiring writing, multiple work sheets, or work that he perceives to be too difficult, he will mumble derogatory comments about the teacher, refuse to complete his work, destroy his assignment sheet, and/or push/kick his desk or chair over in order to escape academic failure in front of his peers.

Once the IEP team agrees on a hypothesis statement, they are ready to design specific interventions for the behavior. The interventions should teach the students new behaviors and new skills which allow them to fulfill the function of the behavior in a school appropriate manner.


A functional behavioral assessment is a method of looking at behavior to try to decide why the child uses the specific behaviors and how the world around the child affects the child and the behaviors.

During disciplinary removals, as appropriate, or when the behavior is a manifestation of the disability, the IEP team must conduct a functional behavioral assessment and implement a behavior intervention plan for the child.

Steps included in a Functional Behavioral Assessment:

  1. identify and define the problem behavior
  2. collect information about when the behavior happens through
    1. observations
    2. data collection
    3. interviews with child, parents, and staff
  3. identify what happens before the child's problem behavior and what happens after the problem behavior
  4. come to an agreement about the purpose of the problem behavior
  5. develop a statement that explains why and when the IEP team thinks the child uses the problem behavior

Example of statement or hypothesis:
When the student is given school work which includes writing or work that he sees as hard, he will mumble under his breath, refuse to complete his work, destroy the assignment sheet, and/or push/kick his desk over in order to escape being a school failure in front of the other students.

The IEP team can complete the functional behavioral assessment at the first meeting if there is enough information to decide the purpose of the behavior. Otherwise, the IEP team decides how to get the information and when to meet to complete the assessment. Once the purpose of the behavior is decided, the IEP team develops a behavioral intervention plan for the student. Positive Behavioral Supports

When the IEP is created: if a child has behavior that makes it hard for him or her to learn or for other children to learn, the IEP team should consider including positive behavioral interventions, strategies and supports to help the student improve the behavior.

Positive behavioral interventions, strategies and supports are not punishment. They are designed for the specific child to try to help that child learn to change her or his behavior. They can include any of the following and/or other ideas developed by the team:

  1. teaching the child new, replacement behaviors
  2. rewarding the child for using good behavior
  3. helping the child learn what “triggers” the behavior and how to successfully avoid or get away from the triggers
  4. changing what happens around the child to promote good behavior
  5. helping the child develop strengths at school
  6. teaching the child to identify emotions
  7. teaching the child to express emotions in school appropriate ways
  8. identifying a caring adult that can give the child positive time at school
  9. identifying difficult times for the child and planning for ways to support the child during those times

Behavioral Intervention Plans that are created after completing a Functional Behavioral Assessment should also be designed to help the student change the behavior. The examples above would be useful for intervention plans, also.

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