What Is an FBA?

Learn about functional behavioral assessments

A young girl being punished at school
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An FBA is a functional behavioral assessment or functional behavior assessment. It represents an attempt to look beyond the obvious interpretation of behavior as "bad" and determine what function it may be serving for a child. Truly understanding why a child behaves the way he or she does is the first, best step to developing strategies to stop the behavior. 

Schools are required by law to use functional behavior assessments when dealing with challenging behavior in students with special needs, although you may need to specifically push for that FBA.

 The process usually involves documenting the antecedent (what comes before the behavior), behavior, and consequence (what happens after the behavior) over a number of weeks; interviewing teachers, parents, and others who work with the child; evaluating how the child's disability may affect behavior; and manipulating the environment to see if a way can be found to avoid the behavior. This is usually done by a behavioral specialist, and then becomes the basis for a Behavior Intervention Plan.

For example, say a student acts up frequently and is sent to stand in the hallway. A functional behavior assessment may find that the student acts up only during times when a lot of writing is required in class, and that he has documented difficulty with fine motor skills. The misbehavior serves the function of getting him out of written work. Supports to reduce the amount of writing needed and tools to make writing easier may eliminate the behavior in a way that escalating punishments never will.

After all, sending the child to the principal's office, making his parents come get him, and suspending him are equally as effective in meeting the goal of getting out of class when it's time to write.

Ideally, an FBA would be started soon after the behavior starts being a problem, so the behavioral specialist has time to observe the behavior and implement a change in a timely manner.

School staffing being what it is, the gap between the recognition of a need for assessment and the actual assessment taking place may be weeks or even months. Meanwhile, the behavior keeps occurring, keeps being disruptive, keeps interfering with your child's behavior, and keeps making life difficult for the teacher. You might consider strategizing with the teacher and the child study team in the meantime, perhaps proposing a behavior plan of your own to serve as a stopgap.

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