What is a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA)?
An FBA involves gathering information (through teacher and parent interviews, direct observations of the child, and review of their educational and/or medical records) to hypothesize the reason(s) for or “function(s)” of the child’s challenging behavior(s).
A functional behavior assessment (FBA), is generally conducted in a school or home setting by a psychologist or behavior specialist when a youth’s behaviors significantly interfere with their learning of academic material or their acquirement of age-appropriate social-emotional skills.
Example: A student repeatedly walks around and finds something to play with in his hands during math lessons. He often misses the instructions and says he does not understand the math concepts being taught when his teacher checks in with him. He also says that math frustrates him.
After we conduct an FBA we can develop a positive behavior support plan to meet the student’s needs.
Once we hypothesize the function of a child’s behavior, we can develop a positive behavior support plan to outline what replacement skills are needed and how they will be taught (e.g., direct instruction, teacher modeling, role plays, positive reinforcement, etc.) to the student.
In the math example discussed above (with the boy who walked around and played with objects during math), strategies could potentially include:
- providing additional math assistance to increase understanding and reduce frustration
- giving breaks for movement during lessons (allowing one to two fidget items at desk)
- starting math with a choice of activity that incorporates a personal interest of the student’s
- utilizing math manipulatives (multisensory approach)
- providing the student with math games to increase their comfort with the subject
- teaching the student to recognize physical signs of frustration along with coping strategies such as breathing, visualization, mindfulness, etc. to get through moments of frustration
- considering what your student does well with when planning instruction (e.g., if your student is strong in art, try to teach them math with art)
It is important to know the antecedents and consequences of the behavior(s) of concern.
When conducting an FBA it is critical to identify the antecedents (what happened before the behavior occurred) and consequences (what happened after the behavior occurred) that are maintaining the behavior.
In the example discussed above, math lessons are the antecedent(s).
The behaviors (walking around and finding objects to play with during math lessons) are maintained through natural consequences such as mental/physical stimulation and the opportunity to use distraction to avoid frustration related to math. In this situation, the teacher allowed the student to engage in the behavior. No specific consequences were imposed by the teacher.
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Rachel Wise is the author and founder of Education and Behavior. Rachel created Education and Behavior in 2014 for adults to have an easy way to access research-based information to support children in the areas of learning, behavior, and social-emotional development. As a survivor of abuse, neglect, and bullying, Rachel slipped through the cracks of her school and community. Education and Behavior hopes to play a role in preventing that from happening to other children. Rachel is also the author of Building Confidence and Improving Behavior in Children: A Guide for Parents and Teachers.
“Children do best when there is consistency within and across settings (i.e., home, school, community). Education and Behavior allows us to maintain that consistency.”