Archive for the ‘Assessment’ Category

We have been to a number of IEP meetings where the results of a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) were presented. You won’t believe some of the things we have heard! Check out this list:

  1. Your child doesn’t need an FBA. FBAs are for children who have severe emotional problems.
  2. Here is our FBA form, let’s fill it out so we can write the Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP).
  3. You cannot ask for an independent FBA. An FBA is not an assessment.
  4. We finished your child’s FBA. The function of your child’s behavior is anxiety.
  5. We finished your child’s FBA. The function of your child’s behavior is control.
  6. We tried to do an FBA but your child does not have any behaviors.
  7. I don’t know how to graph your child’s functional analysis results. They didn’t teach me how to graph in school.
  8. We don’t need a behavior analyst to do the FBA. Our special education teacher took a class on behavior. She can do it.
  9. Why did your report say the child escaped? Our staff keep children within arm’s length at  all times.

And the number 1 craziest thing we have heard about FBAs:

10. We cannot do an FBA as part of the initial evaluation. We have to see how he behaves in special education first.

Please share! What crazy things have you been told about an FBA? Behavior analysts, what have you heard?

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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 actually comes from a list serve rather than an actual email to me directly.

A number of parents have been discussing the issue of scream rooms or seclusion timeout rooms. If you are interested in reading about this more, please check out our previous posts on the topic here, here, here, and here.

As part of the discussion about these rooms, a number of people mentioned the importance of having a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) done combined with developing an appropriate behavior plan. Other people then posted about the importance of a functional analysis. That is when a parent asked,

“Could you please explain the difference between an FBA (functional behavior assessment) and a Functional Analysis?” “Also, please explain who can do a functional analysis and why it’s important you get a qualified person to do it.”

We have written about FBAs on this blog before. We described an FBA here, we described when to do an FBA here, and we reviewed some legal cases on FBA here.

So, for a recap, remember:

The FBA is a multi-step process that may include some or all of the following:
A good FBA will include a graph summarizing the observations and/or functional analysis.
The FBA should result in a statement or statements that tell you WHY the child is engaging in the behavior.
Additionally, according to federal special education law, an FBA must be completed under these conditions:
  • If, during the IEP meeting, the team determines that the child has a behavior that is impeding his/her learning (or that of others)
  • If the child’s placement needs to become more restrictive because of the challenging behaviors
  • If the child’s behavior has resulted in an emergency change of placement
  • As part of the initial and full evaluation if necessary
What is a Functional Analysis?
 The functional analysis is one step or possible component of the FBA. The functional analysis is a manipulation of events to PROVE why the behavior is happening. For example, if the assessment data suggests that a child may be attention seeking with his/her behavior, then the functional analysis will be implemented so that in one condition, the child is given a toy immediately following the challenging behavior but in the comparison condition, the child is given attention immediately following the challenging behavior. Then, the behavior analyst will count and graph the number of times the child engaged in challenging behavior in each condition. If the child is truly attention seeking, the rates of challenging behavior will be higher when the child receives attention for his/her behavior when compared to rates when the child received a toy following his/her behavior.
I have simplified the description of the analysis in order to show readers the difference between an FBA and a functional analysis. Many functional analysis conditions can be completed and they may be quite complicated depending on the child’s behavior and other relevant information.
By definition, a functional analysis results in an increase in challenging behavior in some or all conditions. Thus, only appropriately trained people should oversee the design and implementation of such conditions. Additionally, the functional analysis results may be influenced by the implementor, the setting, the language in which the instructions are given, and other variables. Thus, the functional analysis should be completed in conditions that are as close to the natural setting as possible (including people, materials, and location).
Finally, the functional analysis ALWAYS results in a graph depicting the results of the analysis.
I hope this helps clarify the difference between the two procedures.
If you have questions about behavior be sure to email Missy at askmissy at appliedbehavioralstrategies dot com.

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Yesterday we discussed questions to ask an ABA provider during an assessment. Today we will address what to expect in an ABA assessment. We would like to clarify that this process should not be limited to ABA providers only. A full and initial evaluation of a child as part of the special education process should also follow this model.

Currently, the field of ABA has no rules and regulations  regarding initial assessments for ABA services. Thus, each agency will follow its own assessment protocol. Early intervention and special education services, on the other hand, have specific rules and regulations regarding assessments. You will find more information about those rules here for children age 3-22 or here for children under the age of 3.

We will attempt to describe a variety of assessments commonly conducted as part of an assessment for children with autism. Our advice to you is to become informed so that you know how to ask for assessments that your child needs.

We have described the different types of assessments on our website. In summary, your child should have a formal diagnosis so that the severity of autism is documented. The diagnostic assessment should be conducted each year as one measure of your child’s progress. The diagnostic assessment should be completed by a licensed psychologist. Texas Education Agency has a helpful list of diagnostic and screening tools related to autism.

Following the diagnostic assessment and before services begin, your child should have a comprehensive developmental assessment for every area of development.  Our recommendation is that norm-referenced assessments be completed annually as a second measure of progress. At a minimum, your child should be assessed in speech and language, adaptive skills, fine and gross motor, social and emotional development, and cognition. The Texas Education Agency has provided resources related to developmental assessments here.

The developmental assessments provide information about where your child is functioning compared to his/her same age peers. Norm-referenced developmental assessments should not be used to develop program goals and objectives.

Your ABA provider may provide some or all of the aforementioned assessments depending on the type of personnel employed by the agency. In order for an agency to develop a program for your child, other types of assessments will be needed. These are the assessments we will focus on.

Standardized Assessments

Criterion-Referenced Assessments

A number of criterion-referenced assessments are available for use by ABA providers. The Brigance is a widely used assessment with substantial research to support its reliability and validity. This assessment provides information about the skills children have acquired as well as what skills should be learned next. The assessment covers all areas of development and may be repeated as a measure of progress towards goals and objectives. The Brigance has been used to assess children with and without disabilities and is not autism specific.

The Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP) is an autism specific assessment that may be used to determine which skills a child has mastered as well as which skills should be taught next. The VB-MAPP focuses on language and challenging behaviors. Thus, additional assessments should be used in combination with the VB-MAPP. Peer-reviewed research studies regarding reliability and validity are still needed.

The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills (ABLLS). The ABLLS provides information regarding skill development in a number of areas including language, social interaction, self-help, academic and motor. Peer-reviewed research studies regarding reliability and validity of the measure are still needed.

We mentioned the SKILLS assessment and curriculum yesterday. This tool assesses skills in all areas of development. Unlike the ABLLS and VB-MAPP, peer-reviewed studies have been completed on the SKILLS.

Providers of services for infants and toddlers may use an assessment called the Hawaii Early Learning Profile (HELP). This tool has substantial peer-reviewed research related to its reliability and validity. The tool is also comprehensive and assesses all areas of development. The tool is designed to develop IFSPs and would thus be appropriate when developing your child’s ABA program. However, the assessment should not be used to determine your child’s eligibility for services.

Your provider may use other measures for program development. These may include checklists, rating scales, and parent report/interview.

Other Assessments

Other standardized assessments are available for your ABA provider to complete. These assessments may or may not be used during the initial assessment. They will most certainly be used over the course of the program.

When children engage in challenging behavior, a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) is required in order to assess the behavior and develop an appropriate Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). At a minimum, the assessment will include a record review, parent/teacher interviews, and direct observations of your child. Providers may also use rating scales completed by parents and/or teachers. Finally, providers may complete a functional analysis where conditions are manipulated to assess how environmental changes affect your child’s behavior.

At some point in a program, providers will complete preference assessments for your child. Formal preference assessments include the systematic presentation of items to determine if your child interacts with or engages with various stimuli. Informal preference assessments may be completed on a daily basis in order to determine how to best motivate your child to work. The provider may simply watch how your child uses toys and which toys your child gravitates toward during free play. Providers may also ask you to limit your child’s access to highly preferred toys and activities to keep him/her interested in them during therapy.

Informal Assessments

ABA providers, early intervention personnel, and school staff may also complete a number of informal assessments. Most likely, they will request copies of records from your child’s medical and related service personnel. A comprehensive record review is almost always utilized during program development.

Providers may create agency specific forms they use when developing programs. Providers may also ask families to complete intake forms in order to gather information from parents and other providers. Completing and returning these forms as soon as possible will help your provider prepare for any upcoming visits or assessments.

Providers may complete observations of your child in a variety of settings such as home, school, and community. Providers will be able to develop better programs after observing your child in as many different settings and activities as possible. It will be important for providers to observe your child under his/her best performance. However, it is equally important for providers to be able to see situations when your child is not successful.

Providers may also complete skill probes. These are mini-tests where the provider asks your child to engage in a skill to see if your child complies or if your child is capable of performing the skill. For example, the provider may introduce a toy set. After playing with your child for a few minutes, the provider may ask the child to find a red car. The provider may document if the child completes the skill as asked. Skill probes may be conducted prior to program development. However, they may also be completed within the first couple of weeks of your child’s program.

As we have stated, this list is certainly not comprehensive or all-inclusive. Hopefully, it will help prepare you for your child’s initial assessment and program development.

Has your child recently completed an assessment? What would you add to help first timers through this process?


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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 Tracy, who asks:

“My child is having his first ABA Assessment soon, what questions should I ask? What should I expect?”

Tracy, thanks for asking! You have been an amazing help to me on Twitter so helping you in this way is the least I could do. You have definitely opened a can of worms with this question but hopefully I can give you some insight.


Your first question to the provider should be, “Do you believe in and work towards recovery from autism?” I realize that this question may offend some readers with autism. Please understand that I would never suggest that any individual who is capable of self-advocating be treated without consent. However, for young children, we know that the symptoms of autism can be successfully treated so that the child can go on to function in school without special education. The child can go on to function in adulthood without supports. The recovery rate is not high (around 48% of treated children). However, even if children do not fully recover, early intervention can lead to great improvements in IQ, adaptive behavior, and communication. “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it, you will land among the stars.” -Les Brown.

Reinforcement and Punishment

The second question you should ask is, “What is your philosophy on reinforcement and punishment?” A good ABA team will use a variety of reinforcers to help your child learn. Over reliance on edible reinforcers can be problematic. We have written a little bit about reinforcement here. Check it out. Preference Assessments are a must. Read about them here.

A good ABA team should deflect the question on punishment and talk more specifically about using reinforcement to address challenging behavior. Do not get me wrong. Punishment strategies are important and warranted in many cases. However, in a comprehensive ABA program, the team should be modifying antecedents to prevent challenging behavior, teaching replacement behaviors for challenging behavior, and severing the association between reinforcement and challenging behavior. New, appropriate behaviors should be reinforced and challenging behaviors should not be reinforced.


The third question you should ask is, “What curriculum do you use?” My favorite response to this question is “We use a variety of resources to determine what to teach your child.” Any agency who relies on one tool to drive their programming for your is setting your child up for failure. Your child with autism needs a comprehensive program to address all areas of development including receptive and expressive communication, fine and gross motor, social and emotional skills, pre-academic and academic skills. As your child ages, other skills such as pragmatics, perspective taking, and theory of mind skills will be important.

An exception here is the SKILLS assessment and curriculum. Having worked for CARD for several years, I know that the SKILLS curriculum was developed using multiple resources. CARD also completed several research studies on reliability and validity of the measure. While the curriculum may appear to be one tool, it is actually quite comprehensive.


The fourth question you should ask is, “What is your philosophy on inclusion?” The research on ABA (and on inclusion) supports that children should be educated alongside their typically developing peers as soon as possible. Depending on the severity of your child’s autism, he/she may need initial instruction in a very small, distraction-free environment. Once your child learns how to learn, he/she will be transitioned to a larger room with distractions. Once your child is able to imitate and learn from watching others, he/she needs to start regularly scheduled play dates to practice skills with other children. Finally, your child should be transitioned to a preschool with support. The support should be systematically faded until your child is functioning in general education with no supports.


Finally, your last question should be, “What is your philosophy about assessment?” This is a loaded question but their response will be informative. We have written a little bit about assessment here. The bottom line is that an agency should either refer you to or assist you with a variety of assessments. Obviously, the first is the diagnostic assessment where your child received the autism label. After that, a comprehensive developmental assessment is needed so that your child’s current level of functioning is assessed compared to his/her peers. This assessment should be norm-referenced and it should occur about once per year so that you will see how your child is progressing.

The agency should complete informal preference assessments daily. This will help them better understand how to motivate your child to work. Formal preference assessments may also be needed initially and periodically throughout your child’s program.

The agency should collect on-going data to monitor your child’s progress towards his/her learning objectives. The data should be collected by each therapist for every therapy session. Data should be graphed following each therapy session. The graphs should be examined to ensure that your child is making adequate progress. Changes should be made to your child’s program if he/she is not making adequate progress.

Supervision and Clinical Team Meetings

Your child’s program should be supervised by a BCBA with extensive training and experience in autism. The supervisor should oversee and train all the therapists on your child’s team. The supervisor should hold clinical team meetings at least twice per month and those meetings should include every therapist and both parents. When possible, related therapy providers (SLP, OT, PT), and school staff should be invited to attend.

The supervisor should also conduct visits of your child during regularly scheduled therapy sessions to ensure that the program is being implemented as planned.

I realize that this was a long-winded answer. Hopefully, it will help you prepare for your meeting! I hope it goes well. We can also schedule some Skype time if you want to talk more.

Readers, if you have a question that you need help with, email me at askmissy at appliedbehavioralstrategies dot com.


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Here at Applied Behavioral Strategies, we are concerned with helping children who have behavior challenges using Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) as the treatment. While most people think of ABA as a strategy for children with autism, we serve a variety of clientele, including children without disabilities. Thus, we are frequently contacted by parents who need help with their child’s behavior.

At times, parents will contact us because they think their child has Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder  (ADHD) and they do not know what to do. Our first recommendation is to have the child properly assessed and diagnosed by a licensed professional. In our practice, we conduct behavioral observations and assessments, we do not diagnose children.

School Evaluation

Parents may seek assistance for assessment in three different ways. First, parents may request an evaluation by school personnel. This full and initial evaluation is completed at no cost to the family. The assessment is completed by a licensed school psychologist or licensed psychologist with the assistance of other school personnel including a general education teacher, special education teacher, and possibly a speech and language pathologist.

The entire process could take up to 60 days from start to finish as the assessment includes observations of your child in his/her classroom, individualized assessment time, and parent and teacher interviews. For additional information about the initial evaluation process for children with ADHD, Wright’s Law is a great resource.

Licensed Psychologist

The second source for assessment comes from a licensed psychologist. Finding the right psychologist to assist you may take some time as you should check their background to ensure that they have extensive training and experience with this population. Speak to other parents who have utilized the person’s services. Interview the psychologist to make sure he/she is a good fit for you and your child.

Once you identify the psychologist, he or she will schedule several appointments with you and your child. Just like the process used by the school personnel, the psychologist will administer formal assessments with your child, observe your child in his/her classroom, and conduct interviews with you and the child’s teacher. The entire process could take anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks. Receiving the written report and recommendations could take additional time depending on the detail provided by the psychologist.

Medical Professional

The last resource for a diagnosis of ADHD comes from medical professionals. Some family physicians who have training and expertise in ADHD may be available to assist with a diagnosis. Psychiatrists may also be available. The primary difference between medical professionals and licensed psychologists is that psychologists have been trained specifically to administer assessments to evaluate your child formally. Medical professionals, on the other hand, have been trained to treat conditions using medications. If you choose to use a medical professional, take extra precaution to ensure that you select someone with specific training and experience in ADHD.

If you think your child has ADHD, we advise you to read and become informed about the condition as you will be your child’s best ally throughout the process.

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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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