A Functional Approach to Problem Behavior
The FBA is a method for gathering information that identifies the function of problem behavior and the events that predict its occurrence (Sugai et al., 2000). By function, we mean the purpose the behavior serves. More specifically, we mean those events that follow the behavior and increase the likelihood that it will recur, that is, the consequences of the behavior. When April hits Billy at recess, does she get to use her favorite swing? When Sonia kicks Marty during silent reading, is she sent to the office? Each example indicates a consequence (i.e., getting to use the swing and being sent to the office) and a potential function of the problem behavior.
The FBA also identifies those conditions that reliably precede the occurrence of the problem behavior but are absent when it does not occur. In the example of April hitting Billy, the FBA may indicate that April only hits Billy when all swings are in use. When at least one swing is available, she simply uses it and ignores Billy. Conditions that precede problem behavior are called antecedent conditions. Identifying antecedent conditions not only allows one to predict when the behavior will occur, but also identifies the changes needed in the environment so the behavior does not recur. Antecedents include conditions that immediately precede the behavior (e.g., presentation of an in-class practice sheet or being asked to read aloud) and conditions more distal to the behavior (e.g., sleep deprivation or the absence of a preferred person).
A complete FBA identifies (a) a clear definition of the problem behavior, (b) the antecedent conditions that exist both when the behavior occurs and when it does not occur, (c) the consequences that maintain the behavior, (d) a clear definition of the behavior we want the student to exhibit in place of the problem behavior (i.e., the replacement behavior), and (e) a statement of behavioral function.
The term function-based intervention refers to the development of behavior change strategies that are based on the data gathered during the FBA and that are directly linked to the function of the behavior. The basic goal is to use the FBA information to design an intervention that decreases problem behaviors (target behaviors) while increasing desirable behaviors (replacement behaviors). The procedures for accomplishing this goal are clearly and straightforwardly described throughout this book. The outcome is an intervention that addresses the function of the behavior by (a) eliminating the consequence maintaining the problem behavior, (b) providing it or another appropriate reinforcer for the replacement behavior, and (c) removing or in some way altering the antecedent conditions that evoke the behavior. The FBA and the function-based intervention procedures provide the bulk of the information needed to complete an effective Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP).
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