Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Identifying the Effects of Idiosyncratic Variables on Functional Analysis Outcomes: A Case Study

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Identifying the Effects of Idiosyncratic Variables on Functional Analysis Outcomes: A Case Study

Article excerpt


Functional analysis is being implemented increasingly in naturalistic applied settings and with more diverse, high-functioning populations. The number of idiosyncratic variables potentially affecting functional analysis outcomes is greater as the process is extended to diverse settings and populations. The functional analysis in this study was conducted in a public school with a student diagnosed as ADHD. The initial functional analysis indicated high levels of target behavior in both demand and attention conditions. Within-session analysis of data indicated false positive findings in the demand condition and suggested the need for a modified functional analysis. A modified functional analysis resulted in reduced levels of target behavior in demand and elevated levels in the attention condition. The modified functional analysis results were then confirmed by conducting reversals examining attention and extinction. An intervention based on the analyses results implemented across the day resulted in reductions in target behavior. Findings are discussed regarding the identification of idiosyncratic variables, their effect on functional analysis outcomes, and methods for clarifying results.


A major shift in both special education and applied behavior analysis has been to determine the function of problem behaviors and develop interventions based upon that function. Hendrickson, Gable, Novak, and Peck (1996) describe functional analysis (FA) as a form of functional assessment that experimentally manipulates environmental events and documents subsequent behavior changes under each experimental condition. According to Flannery, O'Neill, and Horner (1995), "This [FA] is the most rigorous form of assessment and is typically labeled as a 'functional analysis,' versus the broader term of 'functional assessment'" (p. 501).

Hagopian, Fisher, and Legacy (1994) offered another advantage to conducting the FA as a basis for intervention. They said, "Treatments developed and prescribed from functional analyses can often produce rapid and dramatic decreases in aberrant behavior" (p. 317). Finally, "Simplicity and efficiency may be facilitated because the functional analysis often identifies the critical maintaining contingencies, and the subsequent treatment is then focused specifically on the manipulation of these contingencies" (pp. 17-18). These researchers also reported that FA's enable those in the setting to develop effective programs because the FA reveals the specific reinforcement sources for the problem behavior as well as providing procedures to eliminate the targets. Vollmer and Northup (1997) indicated that the elements in a behavior analytic approach to assessment and intervention in school classrooms made it particularly effective in changing behavior: emphasis on analysis, repeated measures of individual student behavi or and observable behavioral and environmental events; reliance on proven behavioral principles to account for behavioral persistence and change; and interest in why the behavior occurs and why interventions are (or are not) effective in changing behavior.

Mace and Lalli (1991) support FA not only as a development toward effective treatment, but also, they add that, "The contributions of the functional analysis of aberrant behavior extend beyond treatment development to the advancement of a scientific understanding of the nature of behavior disorders" (p. 561).

Initial FA research was effective with institutionalized populations of persons with mental retardation who engaged in severe self-injurious behavior. When researchers moved the FA into natural settings, including the public schools, participants in this published work were primarily persons with mental retardation (e.g., Dunlap, Kern-Dunlap, Clarke & Robbins, 1991; Sprague & Horner, 1992). In fact, Dunlap, Kern, dePerczel, Clarke, Wilson, et al. …

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