Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Functional Behavioral Assessment and Students at Risk for or with Emotional Disabilities: Current Issues and Considerations

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Functional Behavioral Assessment and Students at Risk for or with Emotional Disabilities: Current Issues and Considerations

Article excerpt


The use of functional behavioral assessment (FBA) is an effective tool to address a wide range of severe behavior problems of students at risk for or with emotional disabilities (ED). However, the transformation of a procedure proven effective under highly-controlled clinical conditions to a practical and effective strategy for use in applied settings has posed a number of challenges. We critically examine several of the most prominent of those challenges and related research. We concede that there is more to learn about FBA in applied settings, including how best to establish a goodness-of-fit between "necessity and sufficiency," as described by Scott and Kamps (2007). Lastly, we assert that all school personnel should, at the very least, "think functionally" about pupil behavior.

KEYWORDS: Challenging Behavior, Functional Assessment, Functional Analysis, Functional Behavioral Assessment, Function-Based Interventions, Students At Risk, Emotional Disabilities.

The use of functional behavioral assessment (FBA) as a means to address the needs of individuals with disabilities is a long standing practice with strong empirical support. Based on a half century of experimental research (e.g., Carr, 1994; Iwata, Dorsey, Slifer, Bauman, & Richman, 1982; Wahler, 1969), FBA is defined as "a process of identifying functional relationships between environmental events and the occurrence or non-occurrence of a target behavior" (Dunlap et al., 1993, p. 275). The purpose of FBA is to identify environmental events that reliably predict and maintain problem or "interfering" behavior (McIntosh, Brown, & Borgmeier, 2008; Steege & Watson, 2009). The usefulness of FBA is predicated on the belief that: (a) behavior is purposeful and serves a function for the student, (b) behavior is linked to the context in which it occurs--it is situation specific, and (c) assessment of the function or intent of the behavior facilitates the design of an appropriate intervention to deal with individual student needs (e.g., Dunlap, Kern-Dunlap, Clarke, & Robbins, 1991; Reid & Nelson, 2002; Scott & Nelson, 1999). This is accomplished by identifying those variables that account for the most variance in the behavior (its occurrence versus non-occurrence), variables in the environment that are controllable by persons in applied settings (school, classroom, etc.), and variables that may be ideographic (unique) to the individual student (Gresham, 1991; Reid & Nelson, 2002).

With empirical roots in applied behavior analysis, a substantial body of research, founded primarily on persons with developmental disabilities, has documented the efficacy of FBA in the clinical treatment of severe problem behavior, including aggression, tantrums, self-injurious, and stereotypic behavior (e.g., Stage, Cheney, Walker, & LaRocque, 2002). Today, the usefulness of FBA continues to grow across populations to students with learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, autism, students at-risk, and even typically developing students, demonstrating its role in the development of effective intervention plans. In this paper, we discuss various aspects of FBA in relationship to students at risk for or with emotional disabilities, along with major issues associated with FBA in school settings. We include studies that highlight specific issues addressed, such as function-versus nonfunction-based interventions, indirect versus direct measures, and challenges associated with training school personnel in the use of FBA. Finally, we offer some thoughts on the progress we have made and the role FBA can play in the future.

Research on Functional Behavior Assessment

In the past, the limited body of research on students with mild disabilities caused some to doubt the applicability and practicality of the FBA process in classroom settings. In fact, Sasso, Conroy, Stich-ter, and Fox (2001) cautioned against the overgeneralization of results of research focused mainly on individuals with severe disabilities. …

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