Maryland Positive Behavior Support Training

Describing Challenging Behavior in Detail

Example of Operational Definitions

Examples of Hitting: Using an arm or a closed fist that attempts to or makes contact with another person hard enough to cause redness or bruising. Using an open palm to attempt to and/or strike an object or person with enough force to be heard on a hard surface or making a slapping sound on another person’s skin.

Nonexamples of Hitting: Placing open hand on someone’s shoulder. Patting the person on the back or placing hand on someone’s arm.

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

It is important for everyone to have a clear understanding of what the challenging behavior looks like as a first step in the FBA process. When starting the FBA process, it is common to hear statements like:

  • “She is engaging in disruptive behavior.”
  • ”That looks like a temper tantrum.”
  • ”He is being difficult””

None of these statements help you know what to look for if you were asked to observe a challenging behavior. An operational definition used to guide the FBA and is written in an objective manner so that anyone who observes a person can measure the behavior listed in the FBA the same way and feel confident about when the behavior begins and ends. Providing examples and nonexamples of a challenging behavior along with the definition can be helpful for people to observe and measure the behavior. For instance, it might be necessary to define a behavior based on the intensity of the challenging behavior, especially if less intense responses are not considered challenging.

A strong definition provides the plan with a way to be clear about the challenging behavior assessed in the FBA.