Positive Approaches to Challenging Behavior

Creating a Functional Analysis

Functional analysis involves creating conditions where you can test the function maintaining a challenging behavior. Preparing and coordinating a functional analysis is more complicated since it involves setting up conditions for testing the function maintaining challenging behavior and collecting data as evidence. Functional analysis is only used in specific situations when it is difficult to confirm the function that maintains a challenging behavior and is led by people with experience and who have been trained to use this experimental method of assessment. Because functional analysis is more time intensive and complicated, it may not be the ethical choice in every situation where a positive behavior support plan is needed. In fact, 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 in complicated situations and when working with someone with limited communication who is engaging in challenging behavior. The following are examples of the most common or standard conditions that are set up to test the function maintaining challenging behavior:

  • Communicating need for attention
  • Seeking out a tangible item (i.e., a physical item)
  • Escape from 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 person and no items to interact with

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., 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 attention is positively reinforcing problem behavior
  • A highly preferred activity is identified
  • When the session begins, the preferred item is removed from the setting after a period of time.
  • The item is returned for a period of time (e.g., 30 seconds) when 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 problem behavior is maintained by negative reinforcement in the form of 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 problem behavior, the task is removed and a brief break is provided.
  • These conditions are meant to assess whether there are physiological factors impacting behavior. If behaviors continue in situations when a child or adult is free to engage in activities and in conditions on their own, there may be internal factors influencing behavior.