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Functional behavioral assessment for students with disabilities

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The federal regulations for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) includes many provisions to protect the rights of parents and their child with a disability while also giving families and school systems means by which to resolve disputes. These rights are known as procedural safeguards. Parents and students have specific rights under this law to additional requirements for discipline under the statute 34 CR &300.530 (e) through the process of manifestation determination. During the manifestation determination, the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team may determine that a functional behavioral assessment is needed in order to consider the behavior of the student who has broken the code of conduct.

A functional behavioral assessment is usually considered to be a problem-solving process for addressing student problem behavior. It relies on a variety of techniques and strategies to identify the purposes of specific behavior and to help IEP teams select interventions to directly address the problem behavior. Functional behavioral assessment should be integrated, as appropriate, throughout the process of developing, reviewing, and, if necessary, revising a student’s IEP.

A functional behavioral assessment looks beyond the behavior itself. The focus when conducting a functional behavioral assessment is on identifying significant, pupil-specific social, affective, cognitive, and/or environmental factors associated with the occurrence (and non-occurrence) of specific behaviors. This broader perspective offers a better understanding of the function or purpose behind student behavior. Behavioral intervention plans based on an understanding of "why" a student misbehaves are extremely useful in addressing a wide range of problem behaviors.

When a student’s behavior disrupts classroom instruction, often punitive approaches are put into place. For example: verbal reprimands, isolation, detention, suspension are used to remove the student from the situation but what is missing from this type of discipline is that it fails to teach acceptable replacement behaviors. These replacement behaviors are taught to students so that they know what behavior is acceptable under certain circumstances.

The idea behind functional behavioral assessments is that nearly all behavior is exhibited within a particular context and serves a specific purpose. Students learn to behave (or misbehave) in ways that satisfy a specific need or gives them what they perceive to be specific outcome. Students will change their behavior only when it is clear that a different response will better meet their needs or achieve better results. Identifying the purpose of problem behaviors can provide information that is essential to developing instructional strategies and supports to reduce or eliminate behaviors that interfere with successful classroom performance or participation.

In the next article you will find more information about what occurs during the process of a functional behavioral assessment.

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