Functional Behavioral Assessment & Functional Analysis

Functional Behavioral Assessment,
Functional Analysis,
& Board Certified Behavior Analysts

When enrolled in schools, students with autism of all ages can occasionally engage in extended periods of challenging behavior.  These behaviors can become challenging due to their frequency, intensity, or duration. In all of these cases, the behavior is persistent and pervasive enough that learning and/or the safety of the students, classmates, or educators is jeopardized and the trained behavior interventionists need to create a plan for changing the student behavior. Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) helps educators to understand what specific function or functions the challenging behavior serves for the student. This information enables educators to design interventions that are intended to reduce or eliminate the problem behavior with an appropriate replacement behavior(s) that serves the same purpose for the student.

The rationale behind conducting an FBA is that all behavior occurs within a specific environmental context and that all behavior serves an identifiable purpose. Under operant conditioning principles, individuals “learn” to engage in certain behaviors in order to fulfill a particular need. Specifically, student behavior occurs for one of the following four reasons:

  • Attention
  • Access to certain tangible item or activity
  • Escape or task avoidance
  • Sensory fulfillment

Students with autism have been shown to adhere to these behavioral theories.

In our schools, only highly-trained Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) are responsible for conducting FBAs. In a Functional Analysis (FA), interventionists create a safe environment in which they can “test” different behavioral hypotheses. Through repeated exposure to the different behavioral environments and close observation of when the student engages in challenging behavior, the interventionists can confidently pinpoint the student’s motivations. While FAs allow educators to be more assured of their hypotheses, they are time-consuming and more difficult to conduct. As a result, they are only implemented by the most highly-trained behavior specialists and only when there a previous FBA has failed to identify a reliable explanation for challenging behavior.

Board Certified Behavior Analysts are educational professionals who conduct systematic behavioral assessments, including functional analyses and functional assessments, and provide analytic interpretations of the results. Within the educational environment of our schools, the BCBA is responsible for the design of the specific interventions as well as the supervision of behavioral strategies to ensure their fidelity and effectiveness. Due to their extensive education, training, and practice, which are all required and monitored by an independent certification board, BCBAs can develop and implement appropriate, efficacious, and well-researched assessments and interventions to help students who display challenging behavior, struggle academically, or need any systematic support in the case of problematic circumstances.  Although most students with autism do not display aberrant behavior, there are instances in which individual patterns of behavior can become disruptive and/or dangerous to the student, teachers, or peers.  In these situations, it is advantageous to have a BCBA who possesses the acumen to quickly recognize the influential variables and implement a plan to rapidly minimize the disruption or danger.