Positive Approaches to Challenging Behavior

Goals of the Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA)

Functional Behavioral Assessment, or FBA, refers to a process that helps assess the social, emotional, and communication-related factors that are associated with a challenging behavior. This information is gathered by the child or adult and his or her team in order to create a positive behavior support plan. Positive support plans are designed to increase the quality of an individual's life and to directly address the function maintaining challenging behavior.

The PBS plan helps the people supporting a child or adult outline how they will change their own behavior in order to promote communication and make changes in routines where challenges are more likely to occur. The PBS plan uses the information from the FBA to create a plan that restructures how people respond by recognizing what the child or adult wants or needs and helping them achieve those goals. Using data from an FBA to design a positive support plan leads to improved relationships over time.

the FBA is complete when the following steps are achieved:

Outcomes of a FBA

  1. There is a clear definition of the challenging behavior (one that observed - i.e., can be seen and heard)
  2. Events are listed that predict when challenging behavior occurs and when it does not occur
  3. The events that immediately follow challenging behavior (i.e., consequences) are confirmed
  4. The team has written a hypothesis or best guess about the function maintaining the challenging behavior
  5. The hypothesis has been confirmed using direct observation

The hypothesis or best guess that is developed is linked to key problematic routines or settings. An important step in the FBA is to discover what routines will be selected as the first place to implement the positive behavior support plan. It is important to understand that the function maintaining a behavior can be different across different different routines and even within the same routine across time. This is why the ABC chart and scatter plan are important FBA tools.

Visual highlighting the steps of conducting a FBA.

Adapted from Freeman, R., Matthews, K., Griggs, P., & Quick, S. (2013). FBA figure. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas, Schiefelbusch Institute for Lifespan Studies.

The FBA is used to find the most challenging routines and to start interventions during these key time periods and activities. Once the person and the team understand these difficult routines, it is easier to generalize PBS interventions to other settings. However, sometimes it can be helpful to start with routines where success will occur quickly for the people implementing the plan. Experiencing success can create momentum to tackle the more challenging routines.