Functional Behavior Assessments

A Functional Behavior Assessment is a tool used by educators and other professionals to help understand a child’s behavior. Often when children are having behavioral difficulties in school or at home they can be easily and quickly remedied. However, some children may be experiencing more significant challenges. This requires a closer look, a “deeper dive.” Behavioral experts have discovered that if we can find out how a child’s behavior functions for him or her, that is, what goal it is accomplishing for the child, we will have a good chance at teaching the child alternate, more positive ways to get that need met. The formal process of finding out how the behavior “pays off” for the child is called the Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA).

The FBA begins with defining the behavior – WHAT is it that the child does that is a problem? Once the behavior is defined, we identify events or circumstances that might predict WHEN and WHERE the specific behavior might occur. We then identify the function of behavior – the WHY – or what the child is getting out of the behavior. Once we know why a behavior is occurring, we can suggest and teach alternatives or replacement behaviors that are more acceptable but will still offer the child the “pay off” he or she needs.

While these steps seem very simple and logical, the formal process can be quite involved.  At school a staff member like a teacher, behavior consultant or social worker may assist with the FBA. The Pacer Center, a resource for families, has published a short, descriptive monograph on FBA’s entitled, FBA What Parents Need to Know. A more detailed approach to using FBA’s in school can be found in FBA Training Manual for Educators on the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports website ( Doing an FBA will be guided by a universally held structure. That structure, while it may vary in detail from place to place, will look something like this FBA Protocol.

A strength of most children is that they can be motivated. Finding out how they can be motivated and pairing that to targeted behaviors and the more desirable replacement behavior is a key process in helping children be more successful at home, in school and in the community.

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