Functional behavior assessment (FBA) is used to determine the cause of a child’s challenging behavior at school and develop a plan for improvement.
In this article, we take a closer look at the functional behavior assessment process and methods used to identify and reduce problematic behaviors.
What Is a Functional Behavior Assessment?
A functional behavior assessment (FBA) is a process of identifying the behavior that interferes with a child’s educational progress and impacts their ability to learn. For example, a child may refuse to work on difficult tasks, respond angrily, or act in an inappropriate way to gain attention. An FBA is used when typical school interventions are not effective in controlling the behavior.
This type of assessment is based on the belief that problematic behavior serves a specific purpose. An FBA attempts to look beyond labeling an unwanted behavior as simply being “bad” and determine what functions that behavior may be serving. Understanding why a child behaves a certain way is the starting point for developing strategies for improvement.
A functional behavior assessment is typically used in a classroom setting, but it can also be applied at home if this is where your child is receiving mental health services. An FBA usually takes about 30 days to complete and requires parental consent.
What is the purpose of an FBA?
The purpose of the functional behavior assessment is to:
- Designate the problematic behavior
- Identify the factors that support the behavior
- Determine the purpose of the behavior.
An FBA results in making a hypothesis about the functions that the behavior serves and creating a targeted intervention plan for an alternative behavior that will not interfere with the child’s education. The plan focuses on positive outcomes that can help build a better relationship between the child, the teacher, and the family.
Who conducts an FBA?
A functional behavior assessment is typically conducted by a licensed behavioral specialist or school psychologist, although it can also be done by a teacher. The school counselor and other staff who work with the child may also be involved in the process. Finally, as a parent, you will have an essential role in advocating for a fair and thorough FBA for your child.
Why Would an FBA Need to Be Done?
The main reason for conducting a functional behavior assessment is to understand the relationship between the inappropriate behavior and the environment in order to determine what is causing the challenge.
A functional behavior assessment can:
- Identify interventions to reduce the undesirable behavior
- Propose alternative behaviors to replace the inappropriate ones
- Determine the appropriate placements and services.
The assessment can be part of the Individual Learning Plan (ILP), the Student Assistance Team (SAT) process, and serve as confirmation of a disability.
Most children who are in special education receive behavior programming in school—typically referred to as a positive behavior support plan or behavior intervention plan—to reduce and replace unwanted behaviors. These plans are always based on functional behavior assessments.
However, not all children with a behavior challenge will be able to get an FBA. Read on to find out who is eligible.
Who Has the Right to an FBA?
A functional behavior assessment can be used both for students in special education and regular education students.
An FBA is conducted in the following situations:
- As an essential part of a school evaluation for special education. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires schools to use functional behavior assessments when dealing with challenging behavior in children with special needs. When an FBA is conducted for a child classified as a special education student, it is a function of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) committee.
- When there are behavior concerns in children who have an IEP or a 504 plan. Schools are required by law to do a functional behavior assessment whenever not doing so would deny children a free public education.
- In school discipline situations. Federal law requires an FBA in some cases when a student is disciplined or removed from school.
- Evaluate risk for students with serious behavior issues. There are no laws requiring a school to complete a functional behavior assessment of regular education students.
Keep reading for more details about the steps involved in a functional behavior assessment.
Steps of an FBA
A functional behavior assessment consists of four different steps:
- Define the challenging behavior
- Gather and analyze information
- Find out the reason for the behavior
- Make a plan to encourage positive behavior.
Define the challenging behavior
A functional behavior assessment starts by defining the challenging behavior. The behavior must be described in a specific and objective way. For example, it should specify that the child kicks, hits, and throws objects instead of simply stating that the child is aggressive. Furthermore, only fact-based observations such as “the child places his head on his desk” can be used and not assumptions of the child’s feelings like “the child is not interested in the lesson.”
Gather and analyze information
The second step of an FBA is information gathering. During this stage, the professional tries to answer questions such as:
- When does the behavior occur?
- Where does the behavior occur?
- In what circumstances does the behavior not occur?
- How often does the behavior occur?
- Who is around when it occurs (peers, adults)?
- What triggers the behavior?
- What happens after the behavior occurs?
- What more acceptable behavior can be used as an alternative?
Other useful information includes:
- The instructions that were provided at the time behavior occurred
- Academic and behavioral expectations for the child
- Recent changes in the child’s circumstances in school or at home
- Any medical and other related issues.
It is also necessary to provide a full history of the interventions that have been implemented previously and indicate whether they were successful or not.
Tools used to gather information
The professional who conducts the FBA may use a number of different methods to gather the necessary information, for example:
- Reviewing the student’s records
An ABC chart is another tool that is frequently used in this step of the assessment. It helps collect data about the antecedent (what happens before the behavior), the behavior itself, and the consequence (what happens after the behavior). Both the teacher and the child can complete this chart.
Other information gathering tools include frequency and duration charts which track how often the behavior occurs, how long it lasts, and where its intensity can be placed on a scale of 1-10.
Find out the reason for the behavior
Using the information collected, the team of professionals will outline the hypothesis on what may be causing the behavior, what function it serves, and what the child is trying to communicate through that particular behavior. They will create a detailed report which includes:
- A description of the procedures used
- Information and data gathered
- Comprehensive recommendations.
Make a plan to encourage positive behavior
Once the team has a sufficient understanding of the reason behind the child’s behavior, it will propose a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) to reduce and replace it with more appropriate behavior. An FBA is also commonly used to create applied behavior analysis (ABA) autism treatment plans.
A behavior intervention plan typically includes the following components:
- Changes needed to reduce or eliminate problematic behaviors, for example, modifications in the physical environment, the way the information is presented, or the consequences of the behavior
- Strategies for replacing the challenging behaviors with appropriate ones that serve the same function for the child (replacement behaviors)
- Skills training needed in order to introduce the appropriate behaviors
- Supporting the child when it comes to using appropriate behaviors.
The plan must specify the necessary behavior modifications and new skills. Furthermore, the proposed strategy needs to have a clear focus and name a person who will be in charge of carrying out the recommended steps. As the team obtains new information, it will often adjust the plan along the way.
The functional behavior assessment should be documented in your child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). In addition, the agreed-upon recommendations should be incorporated into the child’s goal work.
Below, read more about the types of functional behavior assessment processes.
Direct vs Indirect FBA
There are two distinct types of FBA processes: direct and indirect functional behavior assessments.
The direct FBA is a comprehensive assessment process used to identify and replace severe, persisting, and frequent behaviors. This process is also appropriate when critical decisions are being made to verify a disability, make placement decisions, or choose intensive or intrusive intervention methods.
As part of the assessment, a professional directly and unobtrusively observes the child’s challenging behavior in their natural environment on several different occasions. The professional must record the circumstances surrounding the behavior, such as frequency and duration, the time of day, location, activities, and people present.
Certain interfering behaviors require a more thorough evaluation. In some cases, a functional analysis (FA) is done to test the possible functions of unwanted behaviors. This method clearly identifies functional relationships by verifying them in an experimental setting.
A direct observational assessment is an objective means of gathering information that may help support indirect assessment findings.
The Indirect FBA is used for behaviors that are less severe and occur infrequently, or as part of early intervention using the SAT process. Because it is less time consuming, the indirect assessment is done in urgent situations that need immediate action and where there is no time for a more detailed assessment process.
During an indirect functional assessment, information about the challenging behavior is gathered from persons who are closest to the child, such as parents, teachers, and service providers.
The indirect approach is more informal, uses simple language, and is less technical than the direct one. It relies on using tools such as rating scales, questionnaires, interviews, and discussions to help identify the target behavior, the circumstances that support the behavior, and the function of the behavior.
Based on the collected information and other data, such as disciplinary referrals and attendance records, the team will develop a hypothesis and formulate a detailed intervention plan. The team will also determine whether there is a need for a more comprehensive direct FBA.
A functional behavior assessment can be used to detect or confirm a disability. Here’s why this is important.
FBAs Can Be Helpful in Detecting And/Or Verifying a Disability
Functional behavior assessments can provide useful information to help determine and/or verify a disability and evaluate how that disability may affect behavior. The determination of a disability is a critical step for accessing appropriate financial support and education. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act forbids discrimination against individuals with disabilities and under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), federal funds are provided to guarantee access to special education and related services to children with disabilities.