Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Functional Behavioral Assessment: A School Based Model

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Functional Behavioral Assessment: A School Based Model

Article excerpt


Functional behavioral assessment (FBA) procedures, when based on behavior analytic principles, are useful in identifying factors associated with problematic and adaptive behavior for students with disabilities. In addition, interventions based on the results of a FBA are likely to be effective and durable. The 1997 amendment of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that a FBA must be conducted in the school setting when a child exhibits significant behavioral difficulties. Currently, it is not clear what constitutes an appropriate FBA. Applied behavior analysts have the unique opportunity to assist school personnel to develop effective and appropriate assessment services. We describe a comprehensive model for the application of behavior analysis in the schools. The model includes descriptive assessment, functional analysis, intervention, and involves the participation of teachers and parents.

DESCRIPTORS: applied behavior analysis, functional behavioral assessment, schools, in-home, problematic behavior


When a behavior analyst offers services in a school setting, school personnel may expect a traditional and quick behavior management approach. There is obviously an important place for interventions that result in immediate behavior change, but often a more in depth analysis and understanding of the behavior is more useful for long-lasting behavior change. The approach to functional behavioral assessment (FBA) described herein is focused on applied behavior analysis procedures designed to identify specific environmental events that are associated with both appropriate and problematic behavior. A good FBA can result in hypotheses that can be developed about the reasons that a particular behavior occurs. Rather than attributing the occurrence of behavior to underlying pathology or basing treatment on the form of behavior (e.g., self-injury versus aggression), applied behavior analysis tends to focus on the operant function of behavior (e.g., behavior maintained by positive reinforcement versus behavior maintained by negative reinforcement).

Regardless of the form of problematic behavior (e.g., self-injury, aggression, destruction, noncompliance or repetitive vocalizations), applied behavior analysis procedures focus on identifying important antecedents to behavior and reinforcing consequences. Thus, a treatment for self-injurious behavior (SIB) that is reinforced by attention may be very similar to a treatment for aggression reinforced by attention. Conversely, a treatment for SIB reinforced by attention may be very different than a treatment for SIB reinforced by escape from instructional demands. Carr (1977) proposed that typical consequences of problematic behavior, such as increased attention, escape or avoidance of demands, and sensory stimulation, may serve as reinforcers. It is important to note that Carr's hypotheses were not an attempt to explain why problematic behavior initially emerged; but rather, to explain why problematic behavior continued to occur. Carr's proposal that problematic behavior is influenced by reinforcement has led to substantial research and to the subsequent development of functional assessment techniques.

From an intervention standpoint, the critical issue is to determine the purpose or function of problematic behavior on an individual basis in order to develop appropriate interventions (Iwata, Pace, Kalsher, Cowdery, & Cataldo, 1990). Consider a student who engages in aggressive behavior when he is directed to respond to a teacher's request. The teacher might be inclined to remove the demand and direct the child to a quiet area of the classroom (i.e., time-out). If escape or avoidance of task completion reinforces the child's aggressive behavior, the teacher has inadvertently strengthened the behavior. In this example, time-out is not an appropriate intervention, because it increases the likelihood that aggressive behavior will continue to occur under similar circumstances in the future. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.