Positive Approaches to Challenging Behavior

Creating a Functional Analysis

Functional analysis involves creating conditions where you test the function maintaining a challenging behavior. Preparing and coordinating a functional analysis is complicated since it involves setting up conditions for testing the function maintaining challenging behavior and collecting data under different conditions as evidence. Functional analysis is used in specific situations when it is difficult to confirm the function that maintains a challenging behavior. A functional analysis is led by someone trained to use this experimental method of assessment. Functional analysis is more time intensive, it involves testing conditions that may trigger challenging behavior, and is more complicated to use. Most FBAs are confirmed using a combination of indirect assessment and direct observations.

The word function spelled with scrabble tiles.

Functional analysis can be helpful when working with someone with limited communication who is engaging in challenging behavior and when direct observation measures are not clear. The following are examples of the most common conditions that are set up to test the function maintaining challenging behavior:

  • Communicating the need for attention
  • Seeking out an item or activity
  • Escape from a non preferred task or person
  • Free play session where items are available but no one is interacting socially
  • Alone condition with no one interacting with the child or adult and no items or activities are present

When a functional analysis is needed, it is important to find someone with experience implementing this assessment strategy.

  • The goal of this condition is to determine whether attention is positively reinforcing challenging behavior.
  • The assessor sits near the individual but is engaged in another activity (e.g., looking at phone, reading a magazine).
  • Whenever any challenging behaviors occur, the assessor turns to the individual and provides attention when challenging behavior occurs.
  • He/she then turns away again and only provides attention or social interaction when the challenging behavior occurs.
  • The goal of this condition is to determine whether challenging behavior is reinforced by access to an item or activity.
  • A highly preferred activity is identified before starting the functional analysis.
  • When the session begins, the preferred item or activity is removed from the setting after a set period of time.
  • The item is returned for a set period of time (e.g., 30 seconds) every time challenging behaviors occur.
  • The preferred item is then removed again and returned when challenging behavior occurs.
  • The purpose of this condition is to determine whether the challenging behavior is maintained by escape from instructional tasks and verbal demands.
  • A series of tasks are presented based on the setting: academic, home, or work related goals that are "difficult" but not impossible to complete become part of this test.
  • After the occurrence of challenging behavior, the task is removed and a brief break is provided.
  • These conditions are meant to assess whether there are physiological factors impacting behavior.
  • The free play assess whether the child or adult will engage in challenging behavior when no social interactions are occurring.
  • These conditions are exploring whether there are any physiological functions maintaining challenging behavior.