Learn Your Special Education Laws, Special Education Rights, and Share IEP Goal Ideas

Dec 13
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by Doug Goldberg

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires the IEP Team to perform a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) on a child with an IEP, if it is determined that any problem behaviors are caused by the child’s disability.  So what does it mean to perform an FBA?

An FBA is an approach that incorporates a variety of strategies and techniques to diagnose the causes of problem behaviors and to identify useful interventions.  FBA’s look past what the behavior looks like or sounds like and focuses on identifying biological, social, and environmental factors that initiate, sustain, or end the behavior in question. 

The message of the behavior is not usually considered inappropriate; rather, it is the behavior itself that should be considered appropriate or inappropriate.  A child seeking attention in the classroom might, 1) try to finish their class work quickly and quietly, or 2) run around the room throwing books in the air.  The child seeking attention through finishing their class work is using appropriate behavior, while the child destroying the room is not; however, both are seeking attention from the Teacher.  Thus, performing an FBA can help the IEP Team find replacement behaviors, which serve the same purpose as the inappropriate behaviors.

Key components of an FBA:

  • Collecting the data;
    • Observing and recording situational factors that contribute to the behavior (Direct Assessment);
    • Interview with significant others such as Teachers, family, and friends (Indirect assessment);
    • Should include the frequency, duration and intensity of the behavior;
    • Should include the reactions that occur following the behavior;
    • Should include the setting, activities and types of instruction that cause the behavior; and
    • Should use multiple sources and methods.
  • Reviewing the data; and
    • Are there any patterns associated with the behavior.
  • Creating a hypothesis regarding the behavior;
    • The IEP Team needs to find a reasonable explanation for the student’s behavior;
    • This hypothesis should include the general conditions under which the behavior is most and least likely to occur; and
    • The FBA needs to come up with positive response options which could reduce problem behavior.  Could include, ignoring the behavior, allowing short breaks before a behavior is triggered, or verbal redirection, to name a few.

The FBA should be completed by someone with training in behavior analysis.  Once the FBA is complete, you can use this report to come up with a Behavior Support Plan (BSP) to include in the child’s IEP.  Do not expect the child’s behavior to change overnight after an FBA has been completed and the BSP is written.  Give it time to work, however, if it’s still not working after an acceptable amount of time, do not be afraid to make changes to the BSP.

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3 Responses to “Functional Behavioral Assessment”

  1. Great introduction to FBAs! One of the keys to successful FBAs are the “ABCs” of Behavior – Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence. When we do FBAs we always look at the actual behavior, but we also look at the behavior that preceded the “problematic” behavior, and the consequence of the “problematic” behavior. If you can extend this sequence into the past, and into the future, you can build a “behavior chain” which allows you to understand the “problematic” behavior in depth, and gives you more “anchor” points to intervene. With some “problematic” behaviors it is possible that the “key” antecedent behavior precedes the “problematic” behavior considerably, in time and behavioral “turns”.

    When considering the “function” of the behavior for the individual, it is usually related to “reinforcement” – the individual receives some level of reinforcement from the actual behavior. In Behavior modification contexts, we also always look at the individual’s current reinforcer regimen, and the ranking of currently used reinforcers. But since all behavior takes place in context, we also consider the function of the behavior on surrounding staff and the environment. While it is true that the staff and environment should be examined to determine how they may affect the behavior, the opposite holds true as well…how do staff and environment react to the behavior?

    FBAs are very valuable tools. Thanks for writing this post and sharing some of what we do :-)


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  2. I think that this is a great summary of Functional Behavioural Assessements that are key to developing effective programs that take into account each child’s unique behaviours.

    We have many great books that focus on FBAs on sale right now with some great shipping deals for the holidays.

    Crawford Dedman
    Special Education Advocacy Consultant

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  3. Our district (which split into 2 separate districts a year and a half ago) had this bad habit of doing the BIP part without the FuBA part. Then they’d unilaterally change the BIP to incite panic … which 3rd District juvenile court’s assessment and diversion program let them know it was VERY unhappy about – and NEVER to try anything like that again.
    So, this new district has decided to start the process over from square one and negate 17 years of special ed history because they don’t like my daughters’ needs. They are aimng the process toward primarily emotional disturbance, which there’s never been any concern about, so they can circumvent addressing the autism.
    We went through an investigation that was incredibly biased. Fortunately, the state office of education ruled that it didn’t feel the girls would benefit from whatever was tried. We have no problem with that since the resolution is the private education at public expense the district had been trying to avoid.
    Should the district want to challenge the state’s ruling, they are free to do so in a due process hearing … or they can go with the existing 17 years worth of documentation (including an IEE neither the state nor the district could locate in their portion of the investigation).
    My girls are now 20; they were Honor Roll students doing grade appropriate work when methodology was changed and we found out they were educational hemophiliacs. The existing graduation credits are not in line with Rowley mandates and will prevent university involvement. Sad when you consider the fact that both girls have comprehension (input) so high it can’t be measured – they top out standardized evaluations at 18.0 grade level; their minds can’t slow down to what’s been expected anymore than a plane can slow it’s engines too far without falling from the sky.

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