A Resource for Teachers, Clinicians, Parents, and Students by the Brain Injury Association of New York State.
Problem: The student speaks out of turn, shows off, or engages in other apparent attention-seeking behavior.
Behavioral Possibilities:
Functional Behavior Assessment

Step 1: Organize observations relevant to the problematic behavior/issue

  • Who is reporting the problem?
  • When does it occur? (Include time of day, activities etc).
  • Where does it occur?
  • What tends to precede the problematic behavior/issue?
  • What tends to follow the problematic behavior/issue?
  • What is the age and functioning level of the student?
  • Previous documentation/charts?

Step 2: Identify possible contributors to the problematic behavior/issue

In many cases, there are several contributors to the student’s identified problem. These contributors may interact with each other, therefore, it may be necessary to combine tests from different categories of possibilities. The existence of several interacting contributors may become obvious as you proceed through individual intervention experiments.

Functional Behavior Assessment:

When negative behaviors are observed in school settings, a functional behavior assessment may be required (depending on the frequency and intensity of the behavior). Serious negative behavior, such as aggression, mandates such an assessment. These assessments have the same components and progression as other school-based hypothesis-testing assessments described on this web site. Functional behavior assessments are generally collaborative assessments coordinated by a behavior specialist or other special education professional with expertise in functional behavior analysis.

Step 1: ABC Analysis: The first step is to make careful observations of what precedes the problem behavior (A = immediate and remote antecedents), the behavior itself (B = behavior) and what follows it ( C = consequences). This is called ABC analysis: Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence. The goal of ABC analysis is to generate potential explanations of the behavior, or hypotheses. That is, staff and possibly family members collaboratively identify antecedent events that may trigger the behavior or make it more likely and consequent events that may encourage the behavior and make it more likely to occur again. This corresponds to the “Relevant Observations” section of most of the suggested assessments on this web site.

It is important to recognize that antecedents can be remote (i.e., occur long before the negative behavior, like a negative interaction around getting up in the morning influencing behavior later at school) and internal (e.g., a profound feeling of loneliness). Many behavior specialists wrongly restrict the domain of antecedents to those that are immediate and readily observable (e.g., the teacher’s instruction to the student).

Step 2: Experimental Analysis: Following identification of hypotheses, the next step is to test them, one at a time or in groups. This corresponds to the “Useful Experiments for Assessment and Intervention” section of most of the suggested assessments on this web site. For example, if staff believe that the student engages in negative behaviors in order to escape difficult or undesirable tasks, then they should create situations – otherwise very similar – in which the difficulty level or desirability of the task is varied. If aggression occurs as the difficulty level goes up (other things being equal), then it is likely that one function of the behavior is escape.

Alternatively, if staff believe that the negative behavior has a communication effect (e.g., negative behavior meaning “I don’t want to do that”), then the experiment can be with alternative forms of communication. For example, if the student is cued to say “I need a break” when the task is hard and the negative behavior is not observed when the student has this communication alternative, then there is support for the hypothesis that the negative behavior has – as at least one function – the function of communicating the need to escape. (See Tutorial on Positive Communication Alternatives to Negative Behavior)

Possible referrals: School psychologist or behavior specialist for behavioral assessment and behavior management strategies; speech-language pathologist for communication assessment and management strategies; occupational therapist for sensory evaluation and management strategies

A program of the Brain Injury Association of New York State, and funded by the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council.

Copyright 2006, by
The Brain Injury Association of New York State
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