Functional Behavioral Assessments Can Lead to More Effective Behavior Intervention Plans

Functional Behavioral Assessments (FBAs) are used to create solid Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs) that help children with special needs change their inappropriate behavior(s) using research based positive interventions. FBAs, when done correctly and thoroughly, take a lot of time and effort but yield very useful information that can create lasting positive changes in your child’s behavior(s). The overall goal of an FBA is to better hypothesize about why a child may be exhibiting certain behaviors. In order to change behavior we have to understand why it is occurring. All behavior happens for a reason, even if it “appears to come out of nowhere”.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) does not mandate that school districts conduct FBAs except in disciplinary situations where a child with and IEP has broken the rules of conduct to the degree that he or she has been suspended for more than 10 days in a school year. This could mean a significant offense that warrants a long suspension of 10 or more days or multiple smaller offenses where the total number of days of suspension in a school year reaches 10 days. If a child with an IEP reaches 10 days of removal from school and an FBA has already been conducted, then the law states that the BIP must be reviewed and revised to increase the likelihood of more appropriate behavior(s).
Some school districts are forward thinking and conduct FBAs on any child with an IEP who is exhibiting a pattern of negative behavior. However, because this is a time intensive process it does not often happen proactively. If you are hearing about (usually because you’re getting calls, e-mails or regular notes in a communication log) a pattern of negative and inappropriate behavior you may ask the school district if they will conduct a Functional Behavioral Assessment on your child to create a BIP to address the behavior(s).

A thorough FBA includes many steps. These steps do not have to occur in a specific order and may be happening at the same time. One important step is a record review of all the documentation the teacher has been taking. Hopefully, the classroom teacher has a system of record keeping the ABC’s (Antecedents, Behaviors & Consequences) of behavioral incidents in place. This has become more and more common, especially among special education professionals but also among general educators. An analysis of the most common antecedents, behaviors and consequences can be quite revealing about what may or may not be facilitating the continuation of inappropriate behaviors. In addition to reviewing classroom records, it is customary to review attendance records, discipline records, assessment records and academic records.

Another step of the FBA is observations of the child. It is very helpful for an objective observer or group of observers to watch the child and his or her interactions. Sometimes it can be difficult for the people who work with your child on a daily basis to be objective so it is best for the observations to be conducted by someone outside of the child’s daily routine. It is important for the child to be observed in different settings within the school, at different times of the school day and with different educators to get a better handle on why behaviors may be occurring.

Another very important step in the process is the completion of rating scales and/or interviews with the parents, the teacher(s) and the child if they have a cognitive understanding of cause and effect. I have seen this step missed in many circumstances and I believe it is often one of the more useful tools for developing a successful BIP. Parents may be able to shed light on circumstances that the school is totally unaware of, teachers may be able to pinpoint certain times of the day, certain people, certain locations or certain requests that tend to precede the behavior. Many professional do not think to talk to the child about their behavior. It is amazing how insightful some children can be about what is going on and why. Many of the students I worked with and interviewed during the FBA interviews had very helpful and creative ideas about what might help them change their behavior(s). Some, of course, did not have good insight, or were too guarded or angry to talk but I still believe it is worthwhile to try, especially with any child over the cognitive age of 12.

After all this data is collected and analyzed the team can usually make some pretty accurate hypotheses about what is leading up to, creating, sustaining and interrupting the inappropriate behaviors. I will talk about BIPs in a future post because this one is getting too long.
Does your child have a pattern of inappropriate behavior? Do you think an FBA might help clear up some questions about the behavior? Has your school done a thorough FBA on your child? I would love to hear about your good and bad experiences with FBAs.