What is a Functional Behavior Assessment?

Are you receiving reports from school about your child’s challenging behaviors in class? Have these behaviors begun to interfere with your child’s ability to focus on learning while at school? It may be beneficial for your school to conduct a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA).

In this article, learn what a Functional Behavior Assessment entails and how it can be used to guide the next steps for addressing and correcting a child’s challenging behaviors.

How is a Functional Behavior Assessment Used in Education?

A Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) is a process that seeks to identify behaviors that are interfering with a child’s learning and provide recommendations to reduce or replace them. The focus of the FBA is on behaviors that occur within the school environment versus those that occur at home or in the community.

The ideal professional to conduct an FBA is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) due to their advanced knowledge in behavior analysis and completion of a rigorous licensing procedure; however, an educational professional such as a school psychologist or teacher can also complete the FBA. Observations can be conducted both in-person or remotely via video interactions with the student and his/her educational team, or through live video streams.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), if a child’s behavior inhibits their learning or the learning of their peers, any member of their Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team can request a Functional Behavior Assessment.
As the child’s parent, you are part of your child’s IEP team; therefore, if you have concerns about your child’s behaviors and the impact on their learning, you may request an FBA for your child.

What is included in a Functional Behavior Assessment?

A Functional Behavior Assessment should accomplish four main objectives:
1) Clearly define the problem behavior(s) the child is exhibiting in the classroom.
a. Behaviors should be described using objective and measurable language. They should be action-oriented rather than based on an assumption of the child’s feelings. For example: an identified behavior could be: The student places his head on his desk rather than following the task. Instead of: The student is being defiant and does not want to participate in the lesson.

2) Utilize data to examine the behaviors.
a. An ABC (Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence) chart can be used to track and chart what occurs before the behavior, what the behavior is, and what happens after the behavior occurs. This can provide a framework and context through which to view the behaviors, aiding in Step 3 of the process.

3) Outline hypotheses/theory as to why the behavior(s) occur.
a. What is the function behind the interfering behavior? Why is the student doing the behavior? What is the student communicating through the behavior?

4) Provide strategies and recommended actions to reduce or replace the interfering behaviors.
a. Is a Positive Behavior Support Plan or Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP) necessary to monitor and track progress towards the resolution of the interfering behavior(s)?

What happens after the Functional Behavior Assessment?

Once the Functional Behavior Assessment is completed, your child’s educational team- including you, the parents – should meet with the professional who conducted the assessment so they can review the results and discuss next steps.

The results of the FBA should be objective, action-oriented, and measurable. If you identify findings in the FBA that sound more like opinions rather than fact-based observations, ask for further clarification. Furthermore, if the data provided is insufficient, in other words, team members need more information, you may also ask the assessor to continue the assessment to include numerous data sources to support his/her hypotheses and recommendations.

At this point, the assessor will then share his/her recommendations and strategies to reduce and replace the interfering behaviors. Oftentimes, but not always, this may include a Positive Behavior Support Plan (PBSP) or Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP).

The Functional Behavior Assessment should be documented in your child’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan), and the agreed-upon recommendations should be incorporated into your child’s goal work.

The Watson Institute’s Training and Consultation Services are provided by experienced Educational Consultants with backgrounds in behavior analysis, development and implementation of Positive Behavior Support Plans, and school district-wide training for educators and administrators.

Dr. Rachel Schwartz, BCBA-D is an Educational Consultant at the Watson Institute. She received her Master’s Degree in Teaching and Applied Behavior Analysis from the University of Georgia and her Ph.D. in Special Education from the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Schwartz has worked internationally creating supervising programs for individuals with developmental disabilities and conducts research on the importance of sexual education and expression for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.