Functional Behavioral Assessment Research Paper Starter

Functional Behavioral Assessment

(Research Starters)

This article presents an overview of functional behavior assessment, an assessment approach that must be used by an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team/committee to determine the intervention method and how it should be used when individuals with disabilities exhibit inappropriate behaviors. A working definition of functional behavior assessment based on literature review is included. In order to successfully implement functional behavior assessment, students, families, teachers, and administrators need specific training and support systems. The literature provides a comprehensive discussion of the approach and advocates for proper training in order to use functional behavior assessment.

Keywords Antecedent; Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA); Behaviorists; Consequence; Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA); Functional Analysis; Functional Behavior Assessment; Inclusion; Internal Reinforcers; Negative Reinforcers; Observation; Operant Conditioning; Positive Reinforcers; Skinner, B. F.

Special Education: Functional Behavior Assessment


Behavior problems in schools have occurred since the inception of formal education. Teachers have used a variety of methods, such as removing the student from the classroom, ignoring the behavior, or assigning detention, to control or extinguish inappropriate behaviors. However, individuals who exhibit consistent or severe behavior problems require some type of behavior intervention.

Obenchain & Taylor (2005) state that behavior intervention finds its roots in the field of psychology, most notably in B.F. Skinner's operant conditioning theory. Operant conditioning proposes that changes in behavior are a result of a response to events occurring within the environment (Owen, Froman, & Moscow, 1981). In the field of special education, many teacher training programs emphasize and advocate for teachers to use Skinner's operant conditioning theory to manage behavior (Obenchain & Taylor, 2005). However, regular education teachers often do not receive behavior intervention training in their teacher preparation programs (Obenchain & Taylor, 2005; Watson, Gresham, & Skinner, 2001).

Federal laws have mandated the need for functional behavior assessment. In 2002, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 was reauthorized by President Bush and is now known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The tenets of No Child Left Behind are changing educational practices across the nation. In particular, changes are being made in how future teachers in both regular and special education are being trained to provide scientifically based educational services including behavior management strategies.

Therefore teachers, regular and special, and related service personnel (i.e., school psychologists, speech-language pathologists, etc.) can no longer manage inappropriate behaviors by ignoring, suppressing, or punishing the individual. Through NCLB and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 school personnel must investigate why an inappropriate behavior occurs and what triggers the behavior (Gresham, Watson, Steuart, & Skinner, 2001; Hendrickson & Gable, 1999; Pindiprolu, Lignugaris/Kraft, Rule, Peterson, & Slocum, 2005; Watson, Gresham, & Skinner, 2001).

Move to Functional Behavior Assessment

Public policy, public laws, and societal views have continued to change and/or expand viewpoints in relation to the education of all children. In the United States, educational policy and practice is significantly influenced by advocacy efforts, medical advancements and technology that saves young infants, as well as the increase in the cultural diversity (i.e., language, religion, socioeconomics, etc.) of students educated in public schools.

As a result, public schools have experienced tremendous growth in special education populations despite the lack of adequate funding needed to implement the increasing legal rights of all students. In terms of special education, free appropriate public education (FAPE) has led to more students receiving educational services in the least restrictive environment (LRE). This is often referred to as inclusion. Inclusion is often defined as educating the individual with disabilities in the regular classroom and in extracurricular activities with peers who are non-disabled. As a result, teachers in regular classrooms, without training in special education, are being asked to teach individuals with problem behaviors (Obenchain & Taylor, 2005; Watson, Gresham, & Skinner, 2001). Prior to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 (IDEA 1997), many of students with inappropriate behaviors were denied access to the LRE, suspended, or expelled from school (Hendrickson, & Gable, 1999).

Need for Evaluation

Every individual who is in need of special education services under IDEA 2004 must have undergone a multidisciplinary evaluation to determine if an educational disability exists and its impact on the educational process. Furthermore, an individual must be evaluated in all areas of concern. Often, individuals in special education exhibit difficult behavior(s), that can be variable, and are often linked to frustration, lack of communication, or rebellion against the task.

For example, a child who is mentally challenged might have learned that to request a cookie he or she can engage in head banging until given a cookie. Thus, to gain an object of desire the individual has learned an inappropriate and socially unacceptable behavior for requesting an object versus learning to request an object by using communication to express his or her desires. The failure to identify the cause of the behavior may lead to inappropriate and unnecessarily restrictive procedures such as restraints or seclusion to control the behavior. Without a functional behavior assessment, educators may not understand the true function of the head banging, leading to an inappropriate intervention. The goal of functional behavior assessment is to identify the unacceptable behavior and replace it, if possible, with a socially acceptable behavior.

In the above example, the school may have decided to "protect" the individual by restraining his or her hands. However, IDEA of 1997 and its reauthorization in 2004 established that functional behavior assessments (FBA) are required. Additionally, individuals with disabilities who demonstrate aggressive and/or inappropriate behaviors which could lead to expulsion or suspension from school must have a functional behavior assessment conducted (Gresham, Watson, Steuart, & Skinner, 2001; Hendrickson & Gable, 1999).

Developing the Functional Behavior Assessment Plan

The IEP team must meet and develop a positive behavioral support plan. Additionally, the IEP team must develop a functional behavior assessment plan within ten days of disciplinary action by school personnel (Gresham, Watson, Steuart, & Skinner, 2001; IDEA, 1997; IDEA, 2004). According to federal law, the purpose of the functional behavior assessment plan is to review, revise, or develop a behavior intervention plan to address the identified behaviors. However, the federal government has left the implementation and program development to the states and local educational agencies (Gresham, Watson, Steuart, & Skinner, 2001; Hendrickson & Gable, 1999; Watson, Gresham, & Skinner, 2001).

IDEA 2004 established the requirement for functional behavior assessments in addressing inappropriate or aggressive behaviors in individuals with disabilities. School personnel must determine the function of a behavior and design intervention strategies to reduce and replace the inappropriate behavior with a more appropriate behavior that serves the same function of the inappropriate behavior (Hendrickson & Gable, 1999; Watson, Gresham, & Skinner, 2001).

Functional Behavior Assessment Defined

A functional behavior assessment is a complex process for determining the cause or function of a behavior prior to developing an intervention plan (Hendrickson & Gable, 1999; Scott, McIntyre, Liaupsin, et al, 1995; Starin, n.d.). Thus the intervention must be based on or related to the cause of the behavior (Starin, n.d.). It is important to understand that making one observation or administering one test does not complete functional behavior assessment. The assessment process requires the use of many strategies such as record reviews, interviews, and live observations (Gresham, Watson, Steuart, & Skinner, 2001).

In 1995, Umbreit (as cited in Pindiprolu, Lignugaris/Kraft, Rule, Peterson, & Slocum, 2005) defined functional behavior assessment as "descriptive and experimental methods to determine whether problem behavior is positively reinforced via attention and/or tangibles-or sensory stimulation or negatively reinforced via escape from either task demands or aversive sensory stimulation" (p. 80).

Gresham, Watson, Steuart, & Skinner (2001) defined functional behavior assessment "as a collection of methods for gathering information about antecedents, behaviors, and consequences in order to determine the reason (function) of behavior" (p.157). In other words, determining the function of the behavior allows one to design and implement intervention strategies to reduce or replace the problem behaviors.

Gresham, et al. further state that behavior functions "typically fall into five categories:

• Social attention/communication (positive social reinforcement);

• Access to tangibles or preferred activities (material or activity reinforcement);

• Escape, delay, reduction, or avoidance of aversive tasks or activities (negative reinforcement);

• Escape or avoidance of other individuals (negative social reinforcement); and...

(The entire section is 4358 words.)