Functional Behavioral Assessments (FBAs), when done correctly and thoroughly can uncover the motivation(s) behind a child’s behavior. Understanding why a child is acting out is critical to creating an effective Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). BIPs are used to provide support, training, accommodations and strategies to children who exhibit inappropriate behavior at school. Writing a BIP without conducting an FBA can lead to valuable time being wasted on ineffective and/or inappropriate interventions.
Children exhibit inappropriate behaviors for four different reasons: to escape or avoid something, to gain something, for sensory reasons or for medical/physiological reasons. There is usually a primary reason that a child exhibits behavior but some children do exhibit behaviors for multiple reasons, which, of course, are more challenging to address. A particular behavior may look exactly the same for each of the reasons above so determining the reason(s) leads to properly addressing the behavior. For example, a child who is throwing a tantrum by flopping themselves on the floor, screaming and kicking could be exhibiting that behavior due to any of the four reasons. It could be avoidance because he was just told it was time to turn off the television and go to bed. It could be to gain attention because she needs to feel in control of situations and she was just told something she did not like. It could be because he is in a loud environment that is overly stimulating. And/or it could be because she is having an allergy to a food or substance in the environment. I would deal with each of these situations differently even though the behavior looks identical.
A FBA should be conducted any time a child’s behavior is significantly disruptive to its own learning or the learning of other children. A thorough FBA includes several different steps. These steps do not have to be conducted in a specific order. One step is to conduct multiple observations of the child in different settings, with different staff members at different times of the day. Another step is to review all of the teacher’s data regarding behavioral issues in the classroom. Hopefully, the classroom teacher has been collecting ABC (Antecedent/Behavior/Consequence) data for at least a couple of weeks. Another step is to review as many of the child’s school records as possible. This may include the child’s IEPs, report cards, formal assessment results, discipline records, attendance records, work samples, informal classroom assessments, nurse reports, therapist (OT/PT/SPL) progress notes, parent contact logs or parent communication books/e-mails and any other relevant records. Another step is to interview the parties involved with the child-the parents, the classroom teacher(s), the special education teacher and paraprofessional, and the child, if appropriate-about their perception of the problem. I generally interview the child if he/she is ten years old or older. Another important step is to complete a survey of reinforcers to determine what activities, items, people, places, etc. are important to the child.
After all of this data is compiled, it must be analyzed to look for patterns and to make educated hypotheses about why the child is acting out. These hypotheses will then lead to the strategies and interventions that need to be put into the BIP to help change the inappropriate behavior(s). If there is any suspicion of a medical condition or a physiological reason for the behavior it is important to rule that out first. This almost always is the parent’s responsibility as the school personnel do not make diagnosis and cannot determine physiological causes for behavior. If you have any inkling that your child’s behavior may be caused by something physiological it is helpful to bring it to your child’s doctor’s attention while the FBA is being conducted so that this can be ruled out or addressed medically and/or environmentally.
BIPs should contain specific and measurable behavioral goals and objectives, as an IEP does. BIPs should indicate who is responsible for each intervention with timelines as to when each intervention should be started. BIPs should include data collection methods and expectations. BIPs should include who the primary contact person is regarding the execution of the plan. BIPs should have a review date of 4-8 weeks depending on the age of the child and the severity of the behavior. At the review, the team should determine through data analysis of the behavior as well as antidotal reports whether the plan is working or not. If the plan appears to be working it should be continued or amended, as the team feels is necessary. If the plan does not appear to helping to change the child’s inappropriate behaviors, new strategies and interventions need to be incorporated into the plan immediately.
If your child exhibits disruptive, inappropriate and/or aggressive behavior at school and you believe a BIP might help them to be more successful, you may ask the school to conduct a FBA to create a BIP. The school district is not required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to conduct one, except in instances of significant disciplinary action that leads to 10 or more days of suspension either for one infraction or over the course of the school year or for removal to an alternative placement. However, there is language in IDEA that suggests a BIP should be considered for a child with special needs when their behavior interferes with their learning or the learning of others.
Jennifer Fuller James has worked with children with special needs for over 22 years. She has been a strong advocate for children with special needs through being a school social worker and a special education teacher. She has also helped many parents help their children to be the best that they can be and to experience success in life. Jennifer received her Master’s in Social Work from The University of Washington in 1992 and her Master’s in Special Education from The University of Northern Colorado in 2005. To download copies of BIPs that Jennifer has created and executed or to learn more about navigating the IEP process, advocating for your child with special needs and parenting children with special needs, please visit Jennifer’s website at http://www.whatisiep.com.