Functional Assessment-Based Interventions for Children At-Risk for Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

By Restori, Alberto F.; Gresham, Frank M. et al. | The California School Psychologist, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Functional Assessment-Based Interventions for Children At-Risk for Emotional and Behavioral Disorders


Restori, Alberto F., Gresham, Frank M., Chang, Tae, Lee, Howard B., Laija-Rodriquez, Wilda, The California School Psychologist


Functional assessments were conducted to identify the variables maintaining disruptive behavior in eight, typically developing fifth-grade students enrolled in general education classrooms. Participants whose behavior was found to be functionally related to either task-avoidance or attention-seeking were randomly assigned to a treatment strategy that was primarily either antecedent- or consequentbased. An ABAB single-case design was employed to analyze the effects of treatment strategies. The current study also conducted a comparison of treatment strategies that were primarily antecedent- or consequent-based. Results showed that antecedent-based treatment strategies (i.e., self-monitoring and task-modification) were more effective than consequent-based treatment strategies (i.e., differential reinforcement) for increasing academic engagement and reducing disruptive behavior. Implications regarding the use of functional assessment with typically developing students at-risk for emotional and behavioral problems enrolled in general education classrooms and the effects of antecedent- and consequent-based treatment strategies as a function of behavior are discussed.

KEYWORDS: Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, Functional Assessment, Behavioral Assessment, Behavioral Interventions, Treatment Strategies.

Students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) are characterized by a number of behavioral, social, and academic characteristics that pose challenges to teachers and administrators. When more global intervention efforts such as primary and secondary prevention programs prove insufficient for shaping behaviors, more ideographic efforts, such as functional assessment-based interventions, are invoked (Horner & Sugai, 2000; Lane, Robertson, & Graham-Bailey, 2006).

Functional assessment involves the full range of procedures (e.g., interviews, direct observations, and rating scales) used to identify the antecedent conditions that set the stage for undesirable (target) behaviors to occur and the maintaining consequences (Gresham, Watson, & Skinner, 2001; Horner, 1994). These data are used to develop a hypothesis statement that can then be tested via experimental manipulation of environmental events. Subsequently, an intervention is designed based on the function of the target behavior.

While the original research on function-based interventions originated in analogue conditions (Iwata, Dorsey, Slifer, Bauman, & Richmond, 1982), this ideographic approach to intervention has also proved successful in self-contained (Dunlap et al., 1993), inclusive (Kamps, Wendland, & Culpepper, 2006; Lane, Weisenbach, Little, Phillips, & Wehby, 2006; Lewis & Sugai, 1996; Umbreit & Blair, 1997; Umbreit, Lane, & Dejud, 2004), and preschool (Umbreit, 1996) settings with a wide range of students, including students with and at risk for EBD (Kern, Delaney, Clarke, Dunlap, & Childs, 2001; Kern, Hilt, & Gresham, 2004; Lane, Umbreit, & Beebe-Frankenberger, 1999; Sasso, Conroy, Stichter, & Fox, 2001).

Despite these successful demonstrations of functional assessment-based interventions in applied settings, some argue that the literature base is limited by the absence of functional analyses; the lack of a systematic approach to the process; and questionable reliability and validity of some of the tools employed (Sasso et al., 2001). In addition, other concerns focus on the ability to achieve the appropriate balance between scientific rigor and feasibility when conducting research in applied settings (Scott et al., 2004) and the goal of focusing more primarily on antecedent-based, rather than consequent-based interventions (Restori et al., in review).

Historically, many teachers and researchers have relied heavily on consequent-based interventions in which the target behavior must occur and subsequently be shaped by the consequences that follow (Lewis & Sugai, 1996; Martens, Peterson, Witt, & Cirone, 1986). …

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