Conducting Effective and Efficient Functional Behavioral Assessments (page 2)
Now that your behavior intervention toolbox is well stocked, how do you determine which behavior interventions to use when? This is the primary purpose of functional behavioral assessment: to help in the design of behavior intervention plans that match the function of the behavior and are efficient and effective. We have discussed multiple examples of brief and informal functional behavioral assessment in this book that lead to effective responses from educators and result in the successful modification of behavior without any paperwork. Table 14.1 gives some examples of interventions previously discussed in this book that may "match" common functions of the behavior.
There are times when using a more formalized process and written format is helpful and sometimes this is required by law. Remember that the goal is to work smarter, not harder. Do not let yourself become intimidated by this process or make it overly complicated. Most of the time, functional behavioral assessments in the educational environment can be fairly simple and straightforward. Functional behavior assessments are conducted before designing a behavior intervention plan, so that the information collected during this process can be used to make the plan more effective. For this reason, we are covering the two processes in two separate chapters. In this chapter, we will discuss the first three steps of the functional behavioral assessment process, which ends in the development of a hypothesis about why the problem behavior is occurring. Chapter Fifteen will then focus on using this information to design the behavior intervention plan. The final steps are determining whether the hypothesis was correct and the behavior plan resulted in improved behavior, then monitoring the behavior plan over time to ensure this improvement is maintained.
Step One: Operationally Define the Problem and Replacement Behaviors
To start the functional behavioral assessment process, all team members must know exactly what the problem behavior being targeted is. The definition of the problem behavior must pass the stranger test, meaning that if a stranger who has never met the student walked into the classroom, he or she would be able to accurately identify if the problem behavior was occurring. For example, the definition, "Johnny does not allow adults to be in charge," does not pass the stranger test because it is not clear exactly what behavior determines this. Is Johnny saying no when asked to do something? Is he arguing when the teacher gives him a direction? "Johnny speaks out without permission" is a better example of a behavior that is defined following the stranger test.
Step Two: Collect Information
For a functional behavioral assessment, you want information for three purposes. The first is to find out the student's strengths and interests in order to build on them when designing the behavior intervention plan. The second is to accurately identify setting events, triggering antecedents, and maintaining consequences. And the third is to get an accurate baseline of the frequency, duration, and intensity of the problem behavior, which serves as a starting point for determining if progress is being made after implementing the behavior plan.
We know that a lot of people see gathering data as a pain. However, we believe that many times this is because they haven't been taught to take data in a way that makes sense to and is useful for them. We used to feel the same way about data, and now that we understand, we find data a bit addictive. Data that are collected appropriately will make your life much easier. So let's address this challenge. The most common questions that we get asked are, "How much information is needed?" and "How exactly do I collect the data?"
How Much Information Is Needed?
In our experience, educators frequently collect a lot of information that they ultimately do not use. It is important to be thoughtful about the data that are truly needed to obtain a factual, accurate picture of the problem behavior and what is contributing to its occurrence and maintenance, while using the least amount of valuable educator time.
More Is Not Always Better
In a functional behavioral assessment, the objective is "to collect the smallest amount of useful information that results in summary statements to which key individuals can agree and have high confidence about their accuracy."1 In the world of behavior intervention, time is of the essence because the longer a student practices an inappropriate behavior, the harder it is to change that behavior. As soon as enough data are collected for key individuals to agree on a hypothesized function, a plan that matches this hypothesis needs to be designed, implemented with fidelity, and monitored for effectiveness. Functional behavioral assessment is an ongoing process, and the plan will need to be tweaked and changed over time. Don't spend a great deal of time collecting a lot of data or worrying about conducting a flawless functional behavioral assessment. There is no such thing, and you will lose valuable intervention time in the process.
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