Conducting A Functional Behavioral Assessment

What's All the Hype?

By: Joan M. Miller, Ph.D.


Functional behavioral assessment is ...

  • an approach used to help a pupil with a chronic behavior problem
  • a problem solving method - one which takes time and creative collabration among professsionals and parents
  • built on the assumption that, if a pupil keeps repeating a problem behavior, that behavior must be serving some purpose for the student - otherwise, he or she would not keep repeating it
  • a process of looking for patterns in what happens around and/or to the student just before and just after the problem behavior
  • examination of these patterns to identify their purpose or their "function;" some possible functions are: avoiding something, getting something, and making something happen
  • creative problem solving to enable the pupil to achieve the same purpose in a more appropriate or more acceptable way

Functional behavioral assessment is NOT ...

  1. the first technique a teacher uses when a pupil misbehaves
  2. a quick fix
  3. a choice for teachers of pupils with disabilities - it's required by federal statutes (such as the IDEA and Section 504) and by some states (such as New York)
  4. a do-it-yourself technique - it takes collaboration

Some common functions served by misbehaving are . . .

getting attention from teachers or peers - for example . . .

  • arriving late -> people look at you
  • talking when you're supposed to be quiet ---> the teacher reprimands you
  • making silly noises or telling dumb jokes ---> peers talk to you ( or about you within your hearing)
  • giving a flip answer to a teacher's question ---> peers laugh at you

escaping work, people, noise, or something else - for example . . .

  • hand-flapping and moaning ---> getting to go sit in the "quiet" room
  • giving a really wrong answer to a vocabulary question --->getting a teacher to "throw up her arms" in exasperation and walk away, never calling you to read aloud
  • cursing at the teacher when she insists you do the assignment ---> getting sent to the vice principal's office and thereby getting out of English class
  • throwing a kicking, screaming, flailing temper tantrum ---> getting out of morning circle (and getting comfort from the teacher or aide, which would also be an example of getting attention from teachers or peers)

obtaining a desired object or event - for example . . .

  • threatening to "get" a peer after school ---> getting the peer to hand over his dessert
  • yelling "It's not fair," "You don't like me," or "He cut in front" ---> getting the teacher to let you be first in line
  • cursing at the teacher when she insists you do the assignment ---> getting to see the teacher "lose it" by ranting and raving in front of the class
  • flicking the light switch on and off ---> getting to watch a light flicker on and off
  • yelling that you won't do "this baby work" ---> getting the teacher to help you with the assignment

A---> B ---> C ---> Analysis

An ABC analysis enables you to analyze clues about why the student keeps doing the same problem behavior. Your purpose is to identify patterns in order to hypothesize about the function the problem behavior is serving.

*Antecedent* what happens just before the behavior occurs identification of the people, events, and/or things present in the situation just before each behavior

*Behavior* what the student does the problem behavior stated in observable terms

*Consequence* what happens after the behavior what happens after the student engages in the problem behavior

See Examples Of A Full Functional Behavioral Assessment

About the Author

Joan M. Miller, Ph.D., Professor of Education, Mount Saint Mary College, Newburgh, New York

*teaches courses in special education, behavior management, literacy for pupils with disabilities, and using technology with pupils with disabilities.

*interests include teacher education, effective teaching research in special education, and educational technology.