Positive Approaches to Challenging Behavior

Direct Observation: Collecting Baseline Data as Part of the FBA

The type of measurement chosen for the FBA is based on the operational definition of the challenging behavior. Choosing a measurement strategy is an important part of the FBA process. Measurement starts during the FBA in order to learn more about the challenging behavior and capture details before any changes are made as part of the PBS plan. Data collected before any interventions have been implemented is referred to as a baseline. Collecting baseline data is important. Baseline data provide information about the effectiveness of an intervention. Baseline and intervention data help us understand whether the PBS plan is associated with increases in the use of new skills and decreases in challenging behavior.

The visual on this page shows a graph with baseline data. The vertical line you see in the middle of the line graph (before September 28) is marking where baseline ends and intervention begins. This line is marking the point at which a "Social Invitation" intervention is introduced which means that someone is learning to initiate social interactions with others.

The horizontal (or X-axis) on the graph marks the days that are observed. The vertical (or Y-axis) records the number of challenging behaviors that occurred on the left side. The information on the right side of the Y-axis is reporting a positive social behavior. The positive social skill is called a replacement behavior since it helps address the same function that maintains the challenging behavior. You can see that as social invitations increase, challenging behaviors decrease. This suggests that the team has correctly identified the function maintaining challenging behavior (the need to communicate with others).

Graph of a social invitation intervention that shows the baseline of a behavior to the left of the bold black line and the behavior after the baseline to the right of the bold black line.

Adapted from Freeman, R., Matthews, K., Griggs, P., & Quick, S. (2013). Implementing positive behavior support plans using data-based decision making. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas, Schiefelbusch Institute for Lifespan Studies.

Examples of Direct Observation Measures

Frequency measures are the best choice when the onset and offset of each instance of a behavior can be clearly observed. The frequency of a behavior is the number of times the behavior occurs in a specific time period. In other words, frequency is measured by simply counting the number of occurrences of the behavior.

The duration of a behavior is the total amount of time occupied by the behavior from start to finish. The duration is measured by timing it from its onset to its offset. Examples include: the number of minutes a person watches TV per day, the number of seconds holding your breath, or the length of time it takes to drive to work. A duration measure is important if what you want to know is how long the behavior lasts.

The measure of latency is the time from some event to the onset of the behavior. You measure latency by recording how long it takes a person to initiate the behavior after a particular event occurs. For example, it can be helpful during a FBA to find out the latency before crying, especially when the hypothesis is that a child is crying to signal there is a favorite toy that is out of reach. The child's teacher can measure latency from the cue (toy can be seen but is out of reach) and the child's crying. Once the teacher knows how long this period is, a prompt can be given to the child to request the toy before crying begins in order to intervene the child begins to cry.

Intensity refers to the magnitude, strength, force, or effort of a behavior. This might include photographing injuries over time to assess whether wounds are healing or using a decibel reader to gather information about how loud a behavior might sound. This measure is often used as an additional measure along with frequency or duration because it is often difficult to obtain an objective measure of intensity.

Interval recording refers to the method of behavior measurement that documents whether a behavior occurs during a portion of a larger period of time. Whole-interval recording counts a behavior when it occurs for the whole interval, and partial-interval recording counts a behavior if it occurs at any point during the interval. Interval recording is a practical method for measuring continuous behaviors, frequent behaviors, or situations where constant observation is not feasible.