Functional Behavior Assessment: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:04 A Functional Behavior…
  • 1:31 Purpose of an FBA
  • 3:51 Components of an FBA
  • 5:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

In this lesson, you will learn the definition of a functional behavior assessment (FBA) and how it functions as a tool to help children replace problem behaviors with more desirable behaviors. You will learn the purpose of an FBA, as well as the components of or steps in conducting an FBA.

A Functional Behavior Assessment

Charlie is a 5-year-old boy who is exhibiting disruptive behavior at school; speaking out without being called on, getting out of his chair, tapping his pencil on the desk, running in the hallways, and screaming in the cafeteria. Charlie's kindergarten teacher did a functional behavior assessment for a couple of weeks and realized the behavior was attention seeking in nature.

When the school counselor met with Charlie's family, the teacher's theory was correct. Since Charlie came from a poor family of six kids with two working parents, he probably wasn't getting enough positive attention at home. The teacher and counselor were able to develop a plan where Charlie received positive attention, or praise, for good behavior rather than resorting to negative attention for bad behaviors.

A functional behavior assessment (FBA) is done with children who are misbehaving in school. It attempts to determine the reason for the behavior instead of just labeling a child as a 'bad kid.' The assessment also looks at how the world (school, parents, teachers, friends, etc.) around the child is reinforcing their behaviors. The FBA was originally designed to be conducted on children with special needs such as autism, but it can be useful with any child that exhibits a problem behavior that needs to be fixed. We will now look at why functional behavior assessments are important.

Purpose of an FBA

Studies have shown that the traditional consequences given to children who misbehave in school (detention, verbal warnings, calls home to parents) may not be the best way to change behavior of these children. The reason is that these techniques do not teach children replacement behaviors. A replacement behavior is a behavior that is designated to replace the problem behavior. For example, for a child that is speaking out in class, the replacement behavior would be for him to raise his hand to be called on instead.

To understand the two main functions of an FBA, we can look at the example of Jackson. Jackson is cracking jokes in the middle of his 5th grade teacher's lessons. It is incredibly distracting and disruptive. The teacher conducts an FBA with Jackson. This FBA has two functions. First, it identifies the purpose of the problematic behavior for the child, such as to get attention, to boost self-esteem, to escape, to become more popular with peers, desire for control, to avoid difficult work, etc. In the case of Jackson, the teacher discovers that the purpose is to get social approval and recognition from his peers.

Second, it replaces the problematic behavior with acceptable behaviors that deliver the same purpose as the problematic behavior. In the case of Jackson, the teacher creates a 5-minute break in the class where Jackson is able to get up and say some of his (teacher-approved) jokes. Therefore, he is getting the social acceptance and recognition he desires while not disrupting the teacher's day.

Children may display the same problematic behaviors, but they may have different purposes and intents for that behavior. For example, let's pretend that there is another class clown in Jackson's class. When the teacher conducts an FBA on this child, she realizes the purpose is not for peer acceptance and approval. Instead, it's an attempt to find distraction from the class work that he finds overwhelming and burdensome. For this reason, the teacher spends some extra one-on-one time with this child to make sure that the student understands the work, and sets up tutoring for the student as well.

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