Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

False Positive Functional Analysis Results as a Contributor of Treatment Failure during Functional Communication Training

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

False Positive Functional Analysis Results as a Contributor of Treatment Failure during Functional Communication Training

Article excerpt


Research has shown that functional analysis results are beneficial for treatment selection because they identify reinforcers for severe behavior that can then be used to reinforce replacement behaviors either differentially or noncontingently. Theoretically then, if a reinforcer is identified in a functional analysis erroneously, a well researched intervention strategy might fail even when implemented with high integrity. Many studies have demonstrated that functional communication training (FCT) is an effective treatment in reducing severe behaviors while simultaneously shaping an alternative communication response. However, few published studies have systematically evaluated the reasons that underlie failure to acquire the alternative response. In the current study, a functional analysis identified attention as the reinforcer for aggression. FCT to replace aggression was attempted using several different training methods. When aggression persisted and the participant failed to acquire the response to access attention, further functional analyses were conducted. Results of follow-up analyses determined that the participant's aggressive behavior was maintained by attention that led to access to a tangible item or preferred activity. When FCT produced attention to a preferred activity, the participant's aggression reduced to near zero levels. Results of the follow-up analyses and the combined reinforcers in FCT highlight the utility of an alternative model of functional analysis, and a process for determining when follow-up analysis versus modification of intervention strategies is required.

DESCRIPTORS: Aggression, Extinction, Functional Analysis, Functional Communication Training, Home Setting, Landau-Kleffner Syndrome


For approximately 30 years, there has been a strong interest in understanding how aberrant behavior, such as aggression and self-injurious behavior (SIB), is affected by environmental variables. Carr (1977) suggested that behavior can be maintained by a range of variables, including external or internal sources of reinforcement. The notion that such behavior is maintained by idiosyncratic variables suggests that treatment must correspond to these variables to produce effective and consistent results (Carr, 1977; Iwata, Dorsey, Slifer, Bauman, & Richman, 1982/1994). In fact, numerous studies have shown that function-based treatments are more likely to be effective than arbitrary treatments (Carr & Durand, 1985; Day, Rea, Schussler, Larsen, & Johnson, 1988; Iwata, Pace, Cowdery, & Miltenberger, 1994; Vollmer, Iwata, Zarcone, Smith, & Mazaleski, 1993; Zarcone, Iwata, Smith, Mazaleski, & Lerman, 1994).

A range of functional assessment procedures has been used to analyze the variables that produce and maintain aberrant behaviors. These assessments evaluate the role of the environment as the occasion for the occurrence of behavior (i.e., in terms of its antecedent influence) and as outcomes that shape and maintain behavior (i.e., in terms of its consequential influence; Skinner, 1953). A common method to obtain information about the antecedents and consequences that affect behavior is an analogue functional analysis (also known as "experimental analysis" or "functional analysis") (e.g., Iwata et al., 1982/1994), which involves directly manipulating a set of preselected antecedents and consequences that are suspected to be associated with problem behavior.

The functional analysis method has many potential benefits when compared to designing an intervention arbitrarily. First, this assessment method allows greater control over events that may confound the outcomes of assessment by eliminating extraneous variables that may occur in the natural setting. Second, this approach demonstrates probable cause-and-effect relationships between controlling variables and the problem behavior (Anderson & Long, 2002). Third, there is a higher likelihood of using a reinforcement-based intervention approach rather than punishment-based intervention approach when functional analyses are utilized (Pelios, Morren, Tesch, & Axelrod, 1999). …

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