Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Functional Assessment of Distracting and Disruptive Behaviors in the School Setting

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Functional Assessment of Distracting and Disruptive Behaviors in the School Setting

Article excerpt

Abstract. More common than severe behaviors, distracting and instructionally disruptive behaviors frequently result in disciplinary decisions being made for the student who is exhibiting them. These behaviors are troublesome not because they threaten the physical or psychological safety of the student or those around him/her, but because they usually occur at a high frequency and make instruction difficult. This article describes a four-phase procedure that can be used to functionally assess distracting and disruptive behaviors occurring in the school setting. A variety of procedures under each of the first three phases will be discussed, as well as the utility of each procedure for the school setting. Procedures for linking information gained in the first three phases of the model to treatment implementation and treatment monitoring will also be discussed. Finally, a case example will be presented to highlight described procedures.

The utility of functional assessment procedures for the evaluation and treatment of severe behavior problems (e.g., self-injurious behaviors, persistent aggression) in developmentally disabled populations has been well established (e.g., Fisher et al., 1993; Iwata, Dorsey, Slifer, Bauman, & Richman, 1982/1994; Mace & Lalli, 1991; Vollmer, Iwata, Zarcone, Smith, & Mazaleski, 1993). However, behaviors that provide an ongoing threat to the physical and psychological safety of students are less common than behaviors that distract or disrupt teachers and other students. The majority of school-based discipline referrals are for disruptive and other behaviors that are aversive to the classroom teacher (e.g., talking out, off-task; Rose, 1988; Skiba, Peterson, & Williams, 1997). These behaviors often interrupt the educational environment and may result in decreased opportunities for learning for the target student and other students in the classroom. Recurrent disruptive and distracting behavior may result in unnece ssary referrals for special education services. Additionally, when these problem behaviors are demonstrated by students with disabilities, school personnel may be less likely or willing to include the students in the general education classroom, resulting in a student's placement in a more restrictive setting (Arceneaux & Murdock, 1997).

Functional behavioral assessment (FBA) is one method of assessing variables associated with the occurrence of disruptive behaviors. FBA is a process of determining the function of the target behavior through the use of a variety of procedures ranging from indirect (e.g., interviews, questionnaires) to direct (e.g., observation, experimental manipulations) methods that are designed to assess the impact of environmental variables maintaining target behavior (Mueller, Moore, & Sterling-Turner, 2000). The information derived from the assessment can then be used to develop effective, individualized interventions (Nelson, Roberts, & Smith, 1998).

Varying opinions exist regarding the precise procedures that should be used when conducting FBAs and, to date, no evidence exists supporting specific FBA procedures in relation to optimal school-based treatment development (Cone, 1997; Nelson, Roberts, Rutherford, Mathui & Aaroe, 1999). Because there are no "hard and fast" rules specifying the best procedures for conducting FRAs (Drasgow & Yell, this issue), it is likely that school-based consultants will incorporate a variety of FBA procedures when they receive referrals for distracting and disruptive behaviors. The goal of the present article is to offer practical recommendations for conducting FBAs for distracting and disruptive behaviors in the classroom. Ervin, Radford et al. (this issue) suggested that EBAs should consist of three phases: (a) a "descriptive" phase in which relevant data are collected through a variety of indirect procedures and direct observation, (b) an "interpretive" phase in which hypotheses are developed, and (c) a "verification" ph ase in which the validity of hypotheses are assessed. …

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