Functional Behavior Assessment: The first STEPS!

In a recent post, we talked about the meaning of a Functional Behavior Assessment, or FBA. As we said in the post, it’s the beginning of the behavior therapy process. The FBA is a comprehensive assessment that helps determine the function of the child’s behavior. It was founded on the principle that behavior serves a function, meaning that there is always a reason for a child’s behavior. There are four basic functions that behavior tends to be are attention, sensory, escape, and access to tangibles. Today, we will explore the meaning of each of these and how the FBA will help find out what function your child’s behavior serves.

Behaviors with the function of attention serve the purpose of trying to get someone else to focus on them. Attention-seeking behaviors can manifest themselves in different ways, including in aggressive behaviors. Oftentimes, we see children hit other people when they should be tapping them on the shoulder or saying “excuse me.” We also see children hit other people because they know that their actions will cause a bigger reaction from the people they hit. The big reactions from other people guarantee that the behavior will occur again and possibly at a higher rate. The access to tangibles function can also be compared to the attention function. The main difference is that the child is looking for a specific thing, like a favorite snack or a toy. Giving children the snack or toy when they hit only reinforces the hitting, and they will definitely do it again in the future.

Behaviors with the function of sensory help the child get sensory input. These behaviors may or may not be aggressive. The most common sensory behaviors we see are rocking, hand flapping, and other hand and finger movements. We typically see kids engage in these behaviors when they bored and left alone. They are looking to cure their boredom with these maladaptive behaviors. We teach alternative behaviors to these ones, including asking for hugs and squeezes, using a weighted blanket, and rocking in a rocking chair.

The escape function is one that we see a lot in children who struggle in school. These behaviors are often aggressive, like hitting or throwing, or non-aggressive, like running away. The sole purpose is to get out of doing a non-preferred activity, like homework or other academic activities. We typically see patterns in these behaviors because children know when their least favorite subjects in school are coming up. We try to use positive reinforcement to get students to do bits of work at a time.

The FBA helps us decipher between the four different functions of behavior and how to move forward with treatment. The various tests we use help us determine whether the behavior serves one or more functions. We use motivation scales, standardized tests, and observations in the process. Combining the results of these assessments help us write a Behavior Intervention Plan and move forward with treatment. That’s all we have for this post, thanks for reading!