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Here at Applied Behavioral Strategies, our mission is to improve the quality of life through effective intervention. One way we hope to do that is by reviewing research articles for our readers. The title of today’s article is State Special Education Laws for Functional Behavioral Assessment and Behavior Intervention Plans. Perry Zirkel authored the article and Behavioral Disorders published it in August, 2011 (Volume 36, number 4).

Purpose

The author set out to analyze state laws regarding Functional Behavioral Assessments (FBA) and Behavior Intervention Plans (BIP). For background information related to federal requirements for FBAs and BIPs, read Dr. Zirkel’s introduction. He provides information regarding the law, regulations, and federal interpretations of the law.

Method

The author searched  for state laws regarding FBAs and BIPs. Keep in mind, states may only add to federal legislation, not take away from requirements. Then he tabulated the information adding a “when”, “who”, “what”, and “how” column. Specifically, the “when” column identified if a state identified when the FBA and BIP were required. The “who” column indicated when a state identified the parties responsible for completing the FBA and developing the BIP. The “what” column indicated when a state defined the FBA and BIP. Finally, the “how” column identified when a state included information about how to complete an FBA and BIP.

Results

Key finding #1. Thirty-one of the states have requirements regarding FBAs and BIPs.

Key finding #2. Twelve of the 31 states fail to identify both the “who” and the “when”.

Key finding #3. Zero of the 31 states require both an FBA and a BIP when a child’s behavior interferes with the child’s learning or that of others. May we note that this seems absurd to us? How can a BIP be developed without an FBA? And how could an FBA not result in a BIP? We are terribly saddened by this finding.

Key finding #4. Only 2 states provided information about how to complete both an FBA and BIP. Meanwhile 12 states provided some information about how to complete a BIP.

Key finding #5. Seventeen states define FBAs and BIPs with only 14 of the 17 mentioning “function” with regards to FBA.

Conclusions

As parents, teachers, behavior analysts, and/or advocates for children with behavioral challenges, we have a duty to make changes at the state level to ensure that students are protected with policies that will result in appropriate assessment and intervention. Protective policies regarding FBAs and BIPs will most likely prevent the use of scream rooms and other inappropriate behavior reduction techniques.

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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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Here at Applied Behavioral Strategies, we try to review a research article on a hot topic for our readers. Because a timeout room procedure in Connecticut has received quite a bit of attention lately, it seems timely to review another study about timeout.

Christine Readdick and Paula Chapman authored the article called, Young Children’s Perceptions of Timeout. The Journal of Research in Childhood Education in 2000. If you want to read the article yourself, you may find it here.

Purpose

Because timeout has been such a widely used procedures in both homes and classrooms, and because researchers have never paused to ask children how they felt about being placed in timeout, the authors hoped to learn how children understood timeout. They stated that the specific study purpose was to learn how young children felt about being placed in timeout and if they understood why they were placed in timeout.

Participants

The authors studied 42 young children ages 2, 3, and 4 years old who attended child care centers that were willing to be included in the study. Parents consented in writing for their children to participate in the study.

Methods

Immediately following a timeout, the researchers interviewed the child asking a series of 17 pre-determined questions. These questions included things like:

  • do you like school?
  • when you are in timeout do you feel lonely?
  • when you are in timeout do you feel sad?
  • when you are in timeout do you feel that the teacher disliked you?
  • when you are in timeout do you feel that you dislike timeout?
  • do you think you need to be in timeout?
Results

More children reported feeling alone, yet safe while in timeout. More children also reported that they disliked (rather than liking) timeout. Sadly, more children also reported feeling that their peers did not like them when they were in timeout.

More children than not could identify what they were doing that led to timeout (e.g., I wasn’t playing the right way). More children reported being in timeout “a little” rather than “a lot”. Most children reported that an adult told them why they were in timeout. Interestingly, most children also indicated that they deserved to be in timeout.

Teachers placed most children in timeout for being non-compliant (N=27). Sixteen children were placed in timeout for aggression.

When the authors compared the answers between children who were placed in timeout “a little” to those of children who were placed in timeout “a lot”, the authors noticed that their negative feelings were more intensified (e.g., more alone, more sad, more disliked by friends).

Interestingly, only about 50% of the children correctly identified the reason for being placed in timeout. Observers recorded behaviors prior to timeout and those records were used to verify if children’s responses were correct.

Summary

The authors noted that timeout, in this study, was being used for minor offenses (e.g., non-compliance in most cases) and that timeout should be reserved for the most severe and dangerous behaviors.

We want to hear from readers. For those of you that have verbal children, have they shared their thoughts about timeout? Are your children being placed in timeout for minor offenses?

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Hi and welcome to “What Works Wednesdays” where we share a success story from one of our clinical cases.

Our intent is to show readers how successful ABA can be. Today’s success story is not about a clinical case but rather a personal case.

As some of our readers may know, Missy has a brother with autism and intellectual disabilities. Mac is also non-verbal which complicates the intervention process.

When Mac was in his early 20s, he moved in to a group home with 5 other men. Mac engaged in inappropriate touching during mealtimes. He touched their plates, he pushed their drinks, and he touched his roommates. When he did this, staff put Mac in timeout until the end of the meal and then Mac was allowed to eat his meal alone.

After several weeks, the staff called Missy to report that the inappropriate mealtime behavior had become a serious problem and that state rules required roommates to eat together. Thus, they needed an intervention so that Mac could eat with his roommates. They had concern that their timeout technique was not working.

Missy provided them with some important background information. When Mac was very young, like many children with autism, he engaged in challenging behaviors during mealtime. To decrease family stress, their mother fed Mac separately from the rest of the family. Thus, Mac had developed a strong preference for eating in isolation with abundant space on either side of him.

Missy explained to them how to develop an appropriate behavior intervention plan: a) modify antecedents to prevent challenging behavior; b) teach appropriate/replacement behaviors; and c1) modify consequences to stop reinforcing challenging behaviors; and c2) begin or increase reinforcement for appropriate behaviors.

Modify Antecedents to Prevent Challenging Behaviors

Staff planned to do a variety of things to prevent Mac from touching his roommates, their food, and their drinks.

  1. At the beginning of the meal, they asked Mac where he would like to sit. He often chose to eat at the bar adjacent to where the rest of the roommates were eating.
  2. Chips (a highly preferred food for Mac) were offered at the table. Mac could only have chips when he sat at the table with everyone else.

Teach Appropriate/Replacement Behaviors

The staff also taught Mac to communicate instead of using challenging behavior to get his needs met.

  1. They taught Mac to ask (using gestures) to sit in a different place.
  2. They taught Mac to ask for additional space (using gestures) when he felt crowded.

Reinforce Appropriate Behaviors

Staff also focused on reinforcing Mac for engaging in good mealtime behaviors.

  1. They provided him with attention (praise and high fives) when he was eating appropriately.
  2. They provided him with chips when he sat at the table with everyone else.

Staff stopped reinforcing Mac’s challenging behaviors.

  1. When Mac touched other people, their food, or their beverages, staff did not allow Mac to eat alone.
  2. Staff did not allow Mac to leave the area when he touched other people or their food and drink.
  3.  Staff only allowed Mac to leave the table when he asked to move or when he asked to sit somewhere else.

Follow-Up

Mac now lives in a home with 2 other roommates. He eats at the table with his roommates. The table is large so that Mac has ample space. When Mac comes to visit Missy and her family, he eats at the table with the children but he asks them to make extra space for him. When Mac eats out in restaurants with Missy and her family, they always ask him where he would like to sit before the meal begins. If the table is large enough, he asks to sit at the end. If the table is small and he feels crowded, he asks to sit at an adjacent table so that he can interact with his family but still have ample space to feel comfortable.

Summary

Staff originally tried to use a timeout procedure to address Mac’s inappropriate mealtime behavior. Staff failed to notice that Mac wanted to eat alone. When they used the timeout procedure it actually had a reinforcing effect: Mac’s inappropriate mealtime behavior increased because they gave him what he wanted when he misbehaved. Additionally, the timeout intervention did not teach Mac any new skills. He still prefers to eat alone or with ample space around him but now he has learned how to communicate his preferences so that he does not have to engage in challenging behavior to get his way.

Thus, when addressing challenging behavior, we must first understand why the behavior is happening. It is then, that an appropriate intervention may be developed to effectively address the behavior.

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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 two reporters who interviewed me for follow-up articles they were writing about the Scream Rooms (also known as Timeout Rooms) here in Connecticut.

One reporter asked, “Is there any research to support the use of timeout rooms?”

Sadly, I was not able to cite any research supporting the use of timeout rooms so I told the reporter that I would look in to it and get back to him.

Exclusionary Versus Non-Exclusionary Timeout

We have already discussed the research on the timeout procedure, as well as one alternative that may be used instead of timeout (there are many others). Most of the recent research on timeout involves non-exclusionary uses of the method. Specifically, rather than excluding a child and isolating her in a room alone, other ways of implementing a time out include:

  • Having the child sit and watch recess rather than participate in it
  • Preventing a child from earning tokens when the rest of the class is earning tokens
  • Briefly turning your back to the child to remove adult attention

Published Studies

I conducted a cursory review of the literature in search of research to support the use of timeout rooms and I will briefly review what I found.

Timeout for Inappropriate Mealtime Behavior

In 1970, Barton, Guess, Garcia, and Baer published a study about the use of timeout rooms for various inappropriate mealtime behavior of individuals with intellectual disabilities. Inappropriate mealtime behaviors included eating with fingers, stealing food, and “pigging” (e.g., eating off the floor). The authors noted that some participants were called to an isolated room whereas others experienced non-exclusionary timeout in that their tray was removed for 15 seconds. The authors noted that the 15-second non-exclusionary timeout was just as effective as the more lengthy timeout room.

Length of Timeout

By 1972, substantial research on timeout had been conducted such that researchers had already learned that the use of timeout for challenging behaviors combined with the use of reinforcement for appropriate behaviors was superior to either of the interventions alone. Also by 1972, researchers knew that timeout was effective but they were interested in learning the effects of varying lengths of timeout. Thus, White, Neilsen, and Johnson (1972) sought to compare the effects of 1-minute timeouts, 15-minute timeouts, and 30-minute timeouts for “deviant children”. The authors found that 1-minute timeouts were effective when they were presented first. Thus, longer periods of timeout were not required.

Timeout for Selective Mutism

In 1973, Wulbert, Nyman,  Snow, and Owen published a study on an intervention package for a young girl with selective mutism. The authors provided the young girl with candy when she spoke. They slowly faded new people in to the treatment room and continued to reinforce the girl when she spoke in front of strangers. After a few weeks of treatment, the authors added a 1-minute timeout in a timeout room. The young girl learned to talk with new peers, a new teacher, and the researchers. However, this was not achieved unless novel people were carefully faded in to the treatment.

Timeout for Aggression

In 1973, Clark, Rowbury, Baer, and Baer published a study showing the effectiveness of a 3-minute timeout room immediately following aggressive behavior. The timeout procedure worked, but note that it was very brief in duration.

Timeout Not Always Effective

White and colleagues (1972) pointed out that timeout was not always effective. They noted that the timeout procedure must match the reason or purpose (also known as function) of the behavior. Specifically, if a child engaged in challenging behavior to obtain attention, then timeout from attention or people would be effective. If a child engaged in challenging behavior to gain access to a preferred item or activity, then timeout from that item or activity would also be effective. However, if a child engaged in challenging behavior to avoid a person or to avoid work, then the use of timeout from a person or work would be ineffective for that child.

In 1977, Solnick, Rincover, and Peterson described the results of a timeout procedure for a little girl with autism who was learning her colors. If the child engaged in challenging behavior, the teacher picked up the candy (reinforcer for learning) and briefly left the room. (Note, the timeout room was not used here.) The authors noted that this procedure actually resulted in an increase in challenging behaviors rather than a decrease. Essentially, the little girl did not want to work and when the teacher left the room (i.e., removed attention), work stopped briefly. They replicated the study with a little boy diagnosed with intellectual disability. Again, when the child did not want to work, the timeout procedure was ineffective. However, when the researchers improved the quality of the instructional time (e.g., made it more fun), then the timeout procedure became effective. In summary, if instruction is of high quality, children will want to participate. If children enjoy the instructional time, the timeout procedure will be effective.

Move from Exclusionary to Non-Exclusionary

By the late 1970’s researchers learned that exlusionary timeout was not the only way of effectively addressing behavior. Researchers also began recognizing that timeout rooms required additional space, highly trained staff, and that timeout was not always effective. Thus, researchers sought to demonstrate that non-exclusionary timeout procedures could be used effectively.

In 1978 Foxx and Shaprio published a study describing the effects of a non-exlusionary timeout wherein the child wore a timeout ribbon and was not allowed to receive reinforcers that other children in the classroom were receiving.

In 1980, Wahler and Fox published a study describing the results of teaching parents to use timeout at home with their children. Children spent 5 minutes alone in their rooms when they misbehaved. Please note that in 1980 children did not have televisions, gameboys, and computers in their rooms. Thus, 5 minutes in the room with no adult or sibling attention proved effective.

Summary

In summary, a number of research studies exist demonstrating the effectiveness of timeout rooms. It should be noted that these studies were published in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s and are now considered out-of-date. While those studies helped better our understanding of behavioral techniques, research since then has shown us that:

  1. Timeout is only effective when used for attention-seeking behavior
  2. Timeout is most effective when used in combination with reinforcement for appropriate behavior
  3. Non-exclusionary timeout is equally effective at reducing behaviors
  4. Timeout should be part of a carefully monitored plan

Finally, timeout does not teach children new, appropriate or replacement behaviors. Thus, the child is not learning what to do, instead they are only learning what not to do. As teachers, we must teach children and that includes teaching them what to do instead of acting out.

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