A functional behavioral assessment is usually considered to be a problem-solving process for addressing student problem behavior for students with disabilities. . It relies on a variety of techniques and strategies to identify the purposes of specific behavior and to help Individualized Education Plan (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.
Before the behavior information is collected, the IEP team can choose to look at the function of the child’s behavior as well as those behaviors due to a skill deficit or a performance deficit. The behavior function looks at two issues:
1. Is the child getting something positively reinforcing from the behavior (for example peer or adult attention)? or
2. 2. Is the behavior an attempt to avoid or escape something that the student finds aversive (for example difficult academic tasks)?
The IEP team must recognize that a student’s misbehavior may come from multiple sources rather than just a single source. For example a student’s jokes interrupting class time, while resulting in peer attention, may also serve to draw attention away from the fact the student does not understand or know the answer.
In addition to considering behavior by function, the IEP team should also try to distinguish between behaviors that occur due to a skill deficit or a performance deficit. Issues with a skill deficit involve an inability of the student to perform an appropriate behavior. For example, a student may not have the sight word vocabulary needed to read from a text book out loud so a behavior ensues. Another example could be that a student does not have the social problem-solving skills needed to interact appropriately with peers on the playground.
Behavior that is displays a performance deficit reflects the fact that the student is able to display the desired behavior but fails to do so when certain conditions exist. These performance deficits may be demonstrated in various ways. For example, a student is generally able to control their temper when confronted by a peer but when outside factors such as hunger, fatigue or extreme frustration occur, the behavior appears. It may also be that a student is not able to discriminate what behavior is expected in each social situation, or they may not see what is expected versus what they want or they may be unable to deal with strong emotional responses.
Behavior is made up of many layers so many issues must be considered. While categorizing behavior by function is essential to functional behavioral assessment, realizing that problems can also relate to either skill or performance deficits, or both, can contribute significantly to development of a sound behavioral intervention plan. Finally, it is also important to remember that one behavior may have an impact on other behaviors the student may engage in so the process of a behavior intervention plan is an on-going process.
The next few articles discuss behavior intervention plans for students with disabilities.