Archive for November, 2011

We’ve been talking about Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) all week. By now you should know that parents/guardians should provide written permission before an FBA is started. You should also know the main components of an FBA. You should also know that schools are required to complete FBAs under certain conditions. Finally, you have seen, in one case, how FBA can be helpful in program planning.

Today we are going to wrap it up with a discussion about when to complete an FBA–or for parents and teachers–when to ask for an FBA to be completed.

Challenging Behavior

In general, if a person’s challenging behavior is interfering with their own learning, or the learning of others, or if the behavior is harmful to the person or other people, an FBA should be completed and a behavior intervention plan (BIP) should be developed.

Additionally, if a person has a BIP and the plan is being implemented correctly but the behavior has not improved, it may be time for an additional or revised FBA.

Education Law

Currently, only special education law requires the use of FBA. Specifically, if you have a child who has not been diagnosed with a disability and who does not have an IEP, and your child engages in challenging behavior, teachers are not required to complete an FBA. However, best practice would dictate that an assessment is warranted.

Special Education Law (ages 3-22)

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA), school staff must complete an FBA under several conditions.

  1. First, during each Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting, the team must determine if the child has behavior that impedes his/her learning. If the team determines that the child has a behavioral challenge, then the team must consider the use of Positive Behavior Supports for that child. Usually, the first step of positive behavior supports is to complete an FBA.
  2. Additionally, if the school team determines that a child’s placement should be changed because of the challenging behaviors, then the team should first conduct an FBA and develop an appropriate BIP.
  3. If the child’s behavior has resulted in an emergency change in placement, then the school team must complete an FBA within 10 days.
  4. Finally, for each child being considered for special education services, the team must complete an initial and full educational evaluation. If the child engages in challenging behavior, then the team should complete an FBA as a component of the initial evaluation.

Special Education Law (ages birth to 3)

Children with disabilities under the age of 3 have different educational requirements. Federal policy does not specifically mention the use of an FBA for infants and toddlers. However, teams should address all areas of need for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families. Thus, if behavior is a concern, then it should be addressed.

In summary, if a child’s behavior is a problem and the behavior is not improving, an FBA is needed. School systems have specific requirements regarding when an FBA must be included. However, those requirements do not prevent staff from completing an FBA at other times.

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Each week we try to review a research article related to a topic of interest. Since our posts this week have all focused on Functional Behavioral Assessment or FBA, we thought it would be interesting to readers to share an article about FBA.

This article was authored by Eric Drasgow and Mitchell Yell and it appeared in 2001 in the School Psychology Review. Sure, you are thinking, “here they go again with another article over 10 years old!” And, well, yes, here we go again.

Just like last week’s research article, this article is so cool and interesting that we just HAD to share it with you. If you would like a copy of the article for your own reading pleasure, we found one here.

Dr. Yell publishes a great deal of work on legal analyses related to special education research. He always manages to be 2 or 3 steps ahead of everyone else on important topics like this. His research in this paper is no different. The paper was published in 2001. Functional Behavioral Assessment did not appear in special education law until 1997.

Study Purpose

The authors set out to learn what case-law revealed regarding requirements for FBAs in schools.

Study Procedures

The authors searched case law for all hearing results related to FBA in school settings. At the time of publication, the authors found only 14 cases for review. The authors read each case, summarized the findings, and then presented them for readers in an organized table.

Study Results

Of the 14 cases, hearing officers sided with the family, in full, in 10 cases. The hearing officers sided with the family, in part, in another 3 cases. Finally, hearing officers sided with school districts, in full, in only 1 case.

The authors went further to analyze why families were prevailing in these due process hearings. In 10 cases, the school district failed to conduct an FBA. In 3 cases, the FBA that was conducted was not completed appropriately.

Study Implications

As a result, the authors made recommendations for readers. First the authors suggested that IEP teams take care to complete appropriate assessments (we suggest that you get parent/guardian consent first), develop an appropriate behavior intervention plan (BIP), and collect data to determine if the plan is working. The authors provide a wonderful checklist for schools to use to ensure that they complete a proper FBA.

The authors also suggest that faculty at universities and colleges be trained in the requirements of FBA as well as how to conduct a proper FBA. This would help ensure that all new teachers, school psychologists, and behavior specialists are current in their practices as they enter the workforce.

Reader Participation and Feedback

So, 10 years later, have things changed? Did your child receive an FBA when it was needed? Students, are you learning about how to do a proper FBA in your coursework? Finally, teachers, psychologists, and behavior specialists, did you learn how and when to do a proper FBA?

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Hi and welcome to “What Works Wednesdays” where we share a success story from one of our clinical cases. All names have been changed to preserve the privacy of the child and family. Our intent is to show readers how successful ABA can be.

We did not realize how many of our readers had an interest in Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) so we thought we would keep with the topic and share a success story regarding an FBA.

Several years ago, we were working closely with a mom and her son, Tommy, who was diagnosed with autism. While we originally started working with Tommy on toileting, we were eventually asked to complete an FBA for Tommy because engaged in challenging behaviors during the school day. School staff wanted to move Tommy from his part-time inclusive class to a full-time special education class. The reason behind the move? His behavior! However, instead of designing an intervention to help Tommy, school staff simply opted to move him to special education. Tommy’s mother was not satisfied with their request so she asked for an FBA and the school contracted with us to complete the assessment.

As is customary in an FBA, we started with a thorough record review. We also set up a time to interview Tommy’s mother and to assist her in completing some questionnaires related to his behavior. Following the interviews with Tommy’s mother, we arranged time to observe Tommy at school and to meet with his teachers. During the observations, we collected data on the events, activities, and situations around Tommy’s behavior. Most people refer to this as ABC data collection wherein the observer writes down what happens before the behaviors (antecedents or As), what types of behaviors were observed (behaviors or Bs) and the events that occurred following the behaviors (consequences or Cs).


We realized that a number of events often triggered Tommy’s behaviors. These included teacher instructions, independent seat work, or periods of time when Tommy was not receiving attention.


We also noticed that a number of consequences followed Tommy’s behaviors most of which included reprimands, teacher proximity, and teacher physical redirection. While we could have ended our assessment there, we decided to take a closer look at the setting where Tommy’s behaviors occurred.


That is when we realized what Tommy really needed. Here is the graph of Tommy’s data. Can you see our concern?

You are correct! Tommy’s behavior occurred MORE in special education than it did during inclusion. The school staff suggestion to move him to all special education would have exacerbated the situation. Luckily, the data in the assessment spoke volumes and Tommy was moved to the inclusion class for the entire day. That coupled with a brilliant Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) solved the issues.

Tommy’s mother deserves a shout out here because she pushed the school team get the assessment completed. She challenged their thinking and she was right. Way to go.

Has your FBA helped lead to a better BIP or better outcome for your child? We want to hear.

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We realized after we posted yesterday regarding the necessity of parent permission for a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA), that several of you were in the dark about the definition of an FBA as well as what makes a good FBA.

So, we thought we should provide our readers with a simple overview. Please keep in mind that one daily blog post on FBA is insufficient for a topic so broad and important.

What is a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA)?

We will provide two definitions of the FBA. The first is from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, the entity responsible for certifying behavior analysts also known as BCBA and BCaBA. Under the conduct guidelines, FBA is defined as:

Functional assessment includes a variety of systematic information-gathering activities regarding factors influencing the occurrence of a behavior (e.g., antecedents, consequences, setting events, or motivating operations) including interview, direct observation, and experimental analysis.

The second definition is from the Technical Assistance Center on Social and Emotional Development. They define FBA as:

“Functional Behavioral Assessment involves the collection of data, observations, and information to develop a clear understanding of the relationship of events and circumstances that trigger and maintain problem behavior.”

What Makes a Good FBA?

To answer this question, let us look more closely at the definition of FBA as both entities define the FBA by the actual components of the assessment. Let’s take a closer look:

  1. Data. Both describe the data collection or systematic information gathering as one component of an FBA. Thus, a good FBA is comprised of data. Typically, behavior analysts will include graphs of data so that readers will have a clear picture regarding the behavior.
  2. Influential factors. Both definitions include the importance of finding factors, events, or circumstances associated with the behavior. Thus, a good FBA will include a list of events, activities, situations, people, or materials that are associated with the behavior.
  3. Observation. Both definitions specifically list observation as an activity within the FBA process. Thus, a good FBA will include observations of the student’s behaviors. While the IEP team will discuss the findings of the FBA during a team meeting, the FBA is not actually conducted during the IEP meeting as direct observations of student behavior should occur during home, community, and school situations where the behavior occurs.
  4. Behavior Triggers. Both definitions describe how antecedents or events and circumstances trigger behavior. A good FBA will include detailed descriptions of events that set off the behavior or precede the behavior.
  5. Reinforcement for Behaviors. Both definitions describe the consequences that reinforce or maintain the challenging behavior. Thus, a good FBA specifically identifies events, items, and activities that maintain or reinforce the challenging behavior. Most assessments will identify this as the “function” of behavior.

What Are the Functions (or Reinforcers) for Challenging Behavior?

As part of the FBA, the assessor will identify the items, events, and activities that are responsible for maintaining the behavior. Most assessors agree that behavior occurs for 8 different reasons or any combination of the 8 reasons.

  1. Obtain access to a preferred item
  2. Obtain access to a preferred activity
  3. Obtain access to attention
  4. Obtain access to sensory reinforcement or non-social reinforcement or automatic reinforcement
  5. Avoid a non-preferred item
  6. Avoid a non-preferred activity
  7. Avoid attention
  8. Avoid sensory or non-social reinforcement or automatic reinforcement

Combinations of these 8 functions may occur in any way. For example, a student may escape a non-preferred activity (calendar time) to obtain access to attention (being held in time out in the corner). Another student may engage in hand flapping (often assumed to be sensory seeking) as a way of avoiding a non-preferred interaction with the teacher. We could go on and on with combinations.

In summary, if your child receives an FBA as part of his or her program, be sure to read the final report to ensure that: data were presented within the document, observations were completed as part of the assessment, influential factors were identified and described, behavior triggers were listed, and an appropriate function or functions of the challenging behavior were provided.

We want to know, has your child received an FBA from the school? Did it include the items we have identified? Did you provide consent for the assessment in writing? Please share!

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Hi and welcome to Ask Missy Mondays where I respond to email questions from readers who have questions about behavior. Today’s question comes from Amanda who is employed as a behavior analyst in a school district. Amanda’s question actually came in following a webinar that Rebecca and I provided on Special Education Law and Ethics for Behavior Analysts.

During the webinar, we discussed the importance of acquiring parent permission before conducting any assessment on a child with an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Of course, this also includes obtaining written permission for conducting a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA).

As a result, Amanda asked this question:

“First of all, our district completes FBA’s as well as something we refer to as Behavior Observations. Let me explain how we are distinguishing the difference between the two.

Behavior observations are completed by the BCBAs. They consist of multiple observations and data collection using tools such as an ABC form, frequency data collection, and/or momentary time sampling. Based on the data we collect, we hypothesize a function of the behavior and develop written recommendations.

When an FBA is completed it incorporates more parts such as the observations, interviews, and questionnaires such as the MAS and the FAST. Once all this data is summarized a function is hypothesized and written recommendations are made.

I am wondering if what we are considering to be a behavior observation is actually a shortened FBA?”

Amanda, first, thank you for taking the time to write. Many parents and behavior analysts alike do not realize that an FBA requires written parental consent PRIOR to its commencement. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, school personnel must obtain written permission before conducting any assessment or evaluation on a child with disabilities (including behavior disorders or autism).

Second, you are absolutely correct in guessing that both steps you have described above (behavioral observations and the FBA) are in fact, FBAs. Had you merely observed a child and made verbal recommendations to the teacher about how to respond to certain behaviors, then a behavioral observation is probably appropriate without parental consent. However, since you collected data, analyzed the data, and formed a written opinion about why the behavior was occurring, regardless of what your district calls it, the procedure was still a functional behavioral assessment and required written parental permission prior to its commencement.

We want to hear from readers. Does your district obtain your written consent prior to completing an FBA? Has your child’s district ever completed an FBA on your child?

If you have questions about behavior that you would like assistance on, please email Missy at askmissy at appliedbehavioralstrategies dot com.

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Writing a blog post on the day following a child sex scandal is difficult at best. It just so happens that on the same day we learned about this story. A man picked up a young girl with autism from her school right after she got off the bus. Then he took her and raped her and brought her back to school where she caught the bus to go home. In both of these stories of child sexual abuse, responsible adults could have and should have responded.

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Each week we try to review a research article. Though not intentional, several of our posts this week related to visual supports for students with autism and other disabilities. Thus, we thought it would be helpful to review a research study on the use of visual supports.

Today’s research article was published by researchers at the University of Kansas. However, the article is now over 10 years old and several of the authors have moved to other institutions. You are probably wondering why we would review an article that is over 10 years old. We have 2 reasons for doing so. First, while the article is old, many teachers and parents do not even know about visual supports. Sadly, research does not always result in translation to practice. Second, the authors completed a cool study with results that we found compelling to share with you. Finally, if it worked 10 years ago, it most likely will work today–especially if we augment the practice with a little technology.

The authors of this study included Sarah Dettmer, Richard Simpson, Brenda Smith Myles, and Jennifer Ganz. The study appeared in Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities in 2000 under the title, The Use of Visual Supports to Facilitate Transitions of Students with Autism. You may find a copy of the study (and many others) here.

Participants in the study included 5- and 7-year-old boys with autism. Both boys experienced difficulties transitioning between activities. The researchers used a withdrawal research design. Specifically, researchers observed behaviors and collected data in baseline. This was followed by intervention procedures and additional observations. The researchers then withdrew the treatment and continued observations. Finally, the treatment was reinstated while observations continued. A design such as this demonstrates experimental control and shows the effectiveness of an intervention if observed behaviors change as a result of treatment and treatment withdrawal.

For this study, baseline (or pretreatment) observations demonstrated the difficulty of transitions for each child. One mother physically removed her child from community settings due to challenging behaviors and refusals to leave. Both boys required 2-5 minutes of transition time combined with multiple verbal and physical prompts.

The intervention consisted of the use of visual supports. Researchers taught parents how to use visual schedules to communicate to their children upcoming events. If the intervention sounds simplistic to you, it is. The simplicity of the intervention adds to the quality of the study.

Both boys experienced decreases in total transition time. Specifically, one boy decreased from 5 minute transitions to 1.5 minute transitions. The other boy decreased from 2 and 3 minute transitions to transitions lasting 30 seconds.

The most surprising finding in this study (and the reason we still want to talk about it 10 years later) is the fact that one student verbally requested his picture book when it was removed. The other student went looking for the visual support materials. The students wanted their visual schedules.

So why 10 years later aren’t we all using visual supports for children who need them?

If you have a child or a student with autism who experiences difficulties with transitions. Consider using visual supports as a strategy to reduce transition difficulty. If the student has an iPad consider purchasing iPrompts so a visual schedule may be made in seconds.

Happy transitions everyone!

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