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Ethical Advocate for Accurate Application & Dissemination of Behavior Analysis

Welcome to Behaviorbabe

Ethical Advocate for Accurate Application & Dissemination of Behavior Analysis

Functional Behavior Assessments - What are they?
Behaviorbabe Podcast: Functional Behavior Assessments (Listen)

Functional assessment is generally considered to be a problem solving process for addressing behaviors of concern.  Functional behavior assessments look beyond diagnostic labels or the overt topography (the way a behavior LOOKS) in order to obtain information that can be used to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of behavioral supports.

Rationale for completing FBAs

A central reason for conducting a functional behavior assessment is to obtain information about when and where the challenging behavior is occurring in order to determine why the behavior occurs.

By understanding relationships between the environment and the challenging behaviors, the assumption is that we can develop plans of behavioral support. Behavior plans based on an FBA will be more effective and efficient, and will produce broader change in the lifestyle of the individual with problem behaviors (O'Neill et al, 1997). 

Components of a Functional Behavior Assessment 

A functional assessment is complete when 3 main outcomes have been achieved:

1. Observable and measurable, operationally-defined behaviors of concern

2. Identification of events and situations which predict when the target behavior will and will not occur.

3. Identification of what functions the behaviors appear to serve and replacement behaviors

Functional Behavior Assessments Should Also Include

  1. Written consent from a parent/guardian
  2. A review of pertinent records and reports
  3. Interviews with client and caretakers
  4. Collection of direct observation data that supports the summary statements that have been developed.
  5. Observation of social situations
  6. Development of summary statements which describe explicit behaviors, type of situation in which these behaviors occur, and the outcomes (or reinforcers) maintaining them in that situation and,
  7. Recommendations that are evidenced-based, rooted in the research
  8. Interventions and incentives are directly connected to the function(s) of the behavior 
  9. Positive interventions are recommended and exhausted before aversive or punitive procedures are considered
  10. Signature and name of individual completing report

Need Some Practice?

Rules and Regulations

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA] is a United States federal law that governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to children with disabilities.  The IDEA addresses the educational needs of children with disabilities from birth thru age 21.

The IDEA became law in 1975, having most recently been amended in 2004.  Under the guidelines set forth by IDEA 2004, "determining whether a child needs positive behavior interventions and supports is an individual determination that is made by each child's IEP team.  Additionally, IDEA 2004 states, under 34 CFR 300.324(a)(2)(i), that "the use of positive behavioral interventions and supports must be considered in the case of a child whose behavior impedes his or her learning or that of others".

As each state has different expectations and interpretations of situations which warrant Functional Behavior Assessments, individuals are encouraged to research the rules and regulations specified by their states' Department of Education or other appropriate governing agency.


FBA Checklist ...Is your assessment complete?

Reason for referral

  • What is the reason for referral? 
  • Is background information (e.g., medications and therapies) included?
  • Target behaviors are listed?
  • Socially significant behaviors?

Operational definiton 

  • Defined
  • in specific, observable and measurable terms

Indirect Assessment

  • Record review
  • Address current targets

Interview Tools

  • Target behaviors considered and investigated
  • Key individuals interviewed, including client (when possible)
  • Visual display of results, if relevant

Direct Assessment


  • How does the learner communicate?
  • Are strengths and weaknesses are addressed?

Hypothesized function

  • Each behavior must have hypothesized function
  • Be weary of behaviors that do not have a clearly differentiated function
  • Some behaviors can serve multiple functions
  • Functions of behavior can shift overtime, on-going assessment is needed

Risk Assessment/Crisis plan

  • Are there any punishment or aversive procedures in place?
  • If so, were positive approaches implemented first?
  • If no crisis plan is needed, please indicate
  • Provide timeline for updating crisis plan

Overall Summary

  • Are common antecedents and consequences identified?
  • Are hypothesized functions clearly stated?
  • Are replacement behaviors identified and targeted for development?
  • Have skill deficits (e.g., social skills) been addressed? What is the plan of action?

  • Are recommendations consistent with the literature base?
  • Do interventions or incentives appear to match the function of challenging behavior?


  • Free of spelling errors, overall grammar and content complete
  • Name, credentials, date included on report
  • Report contains signature of individual who completed report

For More Information

1. Alberto, P. C., Troutman, A. C. (1999). Applied behavior analysis for teachers (5th ed.). Columbus, OH: Merrill.

2. Cooper, J. O., Heward, W. L., Heron, T. E. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis (2nd Edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
3. Drasgow, E. & Yell, M.L. (2001).  Functional Behavioral Assessments: Legal Requirements and Challenges.  School Psychology Review, 30, 239.
4. Drasgow, E., Yell, M. L., Bradley, R., & Shriner, J. G. (1999). The IDEA amendments of 1997: A school-wide model for conducting functional behavioral assessments and developing behavior intervention plans. Education and Treatment of Children, 22, 244-266.
5. Dunlap, G. & Kincaid, D. (2001).  The widening world of functional assessment: comments on four manuals and beyond.  Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 34, 365-377.

9.  Iwata, B.A., Dorsey, M.F., Silfer, K.I., Bauman, K.E., & Richman, G.S. (1994). Toward a functional analysis of self-injury. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 27, 197-209.
10. O'Neill, R. E., Horner, R. H., Albin, R. W., Sprague, J. R., Storey, K., Newton, J. S. (1997). Functional assessment and program development for problem behavior: A practical handbook (2nd ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks.