Longitudinal Research and Functional Behavioral Assessment Issues

By Walker, Hill M.; Sprague, Jeffrey R. | Behavioral Disorders, August 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Longitudinal Research and Functional Behavioral Assessment Issues


Walker, Hill M., Sprague, Jeffrey R., Behavioral Disorders


This article brings the perspective of longitudinal research to bear upon the nascent current efforts to expand functional behavioral assessment procedures to the larger schoolage population of students with behavioral disorders. In a real sense, this interaction defines the nexus between macro, molar variables that are pervasive in their impact and operate across multiple settings (e.g., poverty, abuse, incompetent parenting) versus micro, molecular variables that tend to be highly setting specific and quite sensitive to situational contingencies and stimulus conditions (e.g., noncompliance with specific commands, disrupting others, situational teasing and bullying). Both approaches have value and utility in describing outcomes for at-risk students, but they operate in very different ways and at differing levels of specificity in doing so.

The longitudinal perspective is developmental in nature and rests upon a risk factors exposure model for explaining outcomes (Hawkins, VonCleve, & Catalano, 1991; Lynam, 1996). That is, pervasive exposure to key risk factors is associated with negative, destructive long-term outcomes (See Patterson, Reid, & Dishion, 1992). Empirical evidence suggests that it is likely that this process model operates in the following manner to account for these outcomes:

I . Children and youth are systematically exposed to a host of risk factors over time (e.g., dysfunctional families, drug and alcohol involvement of primary caregivers, child neglect/abuse, unemployment, lack of school readiness).

2. These risk factors are associated with the development of maladaptive behavioral manifestations of them (e.g., defiance of adults, restlessness and overactivity, aggression, lack of self-regulation, disruptive classroom behavior, inability to focus and sustain attention, hostile attitudes toward schooling).

3. Short-term outcomes that result from these manifestations can include truancy, peer and teacher rejection, low academic achievement, school discipline contacts and referrals, and a larger than normal number of elementary schools attended.

4. These short-term outcomes, in turn, are strongly predictive of much more serious, longer-term outcomes including school failure and dropout, delinquency, drug and alcohol use, gang membership, adult criminality, and, in some cases, serious violent acts (see Cicchetti & Nurcombe, 1993).

Functional behavioral assessment procedures stand as a contrast to risk factor approaches. Most of the research in psychology on conduct disorder has subscribed to this basic model; intervention approaches have focused on reducing risk factors and building in protective factors that address maladaptive child behavior primarily within home and school contexts (Bierman et al., 1992). This approach, which is often epidemiological in nature and usually relies upon combined universal individualized interventions, holds great promise for the development of comprehensive solutions to the problems presented to our society by this burgeoning segment of the general population (Reid, 1993).

Functional behavioral assessment procedures, as a basis for designing behavioral interventions, grew out of and are well adapted to the applied behavior analytic perspective of many professionals who work with severely involved populations with developmental disabilities. This approach tends to focus on molecular variables that often are highly situation specific and lend themselves well to microsocial analyses in which relevant antecedent/consequent stimuli can be identified and manipulated within a highly controlled setting. This model can be quite useful in managing problematic behavior within a particular setting (e.g., classroom, group home) because it allows the probable identification of controlling motivations for the problem behavior within that setting (e.g., escape, attention, dominance or power, withdrawal of demands by others). If the maladaptive behavior achieves the primary social goal (e. …

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