Positive Approaches to Challenging Behavior

Goals of the Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA)

The functional behavioral assessment or FBA involves gathering information to identify and confirm the function maintaining challenging behavior. The FBA gathers information about the what social and setting-related issues are related to the challenging behavior. This information is gathered by the child or adult and his or her team in order to create a PBS plan.

The PBS plan uses information from the FBA to create a plan that restructures how people respond to everyday events by recognizing what the child or adult wants or needs and helping them achieve those goals. The PBS plan helps the child or adult work with their team to outline how they will change their own behavior. The FBA is used to create a plan to encourage new ways to communicate and make changes in routines where challenges are more likely to occur. 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 first to start the PBS plan. It is important to understand that the function maintaining a behavior can be different across routines and even within the same routine over time.

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 begin intervening during key time periods and activities. Once the child or adult and other team members understand how to implement interventions during these first routines, it can be easier to generalize PBS to other settings. It can also be helpful to start the PBS plan with routines where success will occur quickly. This early success can help everyone feel more confident intervening in more challenging routines and settings.