5 Steps to Conquering FBAs for Autism Teachers


Functional Behavior Assessment. 

Sounds. So.


Okay. Did I make that as EPIC as possible? I tried to make it sound as scary as I could. Because I know how intimidating they seemed when I was first introduced to them. So let's take them step-by-step, conquer that fear, and kick some FBA butt!

Alright, let's start with the basics. FBA stands for Functional Behavior Assessment and it is the first step in creating a Behavioral Intervention Plan for a student. Quite frankly, it is a dissection into why a student demonstrates a specific behavior. FBAs are required to determine the appropriateness of a placement or program, develop interventions and introduce new appropriate replacement behavior.

When does an FBA need to be conducted?

An FBA can be conducted anytime. They are typically conducted for students of varying disabilities including autism. They are conducted when a student demonstrates a concerning behavior that may be detrimental to his or her learning or that of his or her peers. This behavior does not have to be dangerous, just concerning and a hindrance to that student's education. An FBA must be conducted within 10 days if he or she has displayed a behavior that is punishable by suspension or removal to an Interim Alternative Educational Setting.

Where Do I Begin?

All right. Here it goes. I want to dispel any rumor that an FBA is a scary proposition. In fact, once you get a hand on how to administer an FBA and write the report, I guarantee you will be walking with your head held high and think you are a total bad ass. And that's because you will be! You will be the one who figures out everyone's behaviors and before you know it, you will be able to zip through all these daunting steps in no time!

So let's get to it!

Step 1. Identify on the Behavior

Identifying the behavior is one of the most important steps. One should look at the most disruptive behavior to that student's learning, and define it operationally. This means that behavior is defined in a way that any observer can identify the behavior. The best way to think about this is to make sure the behavior is defined in terms that are specific, observable and measurable. The clearer the definition of the behavior, the easier is will be to take data. This definition should be written in a way that anyone reading it could understand exactly what to look for and collect data on. It is good practice to include behaviors that are not the target behavior, but may appear similar. 

Let me give you an example. 

I once had a student that bite himself. Now he would bite himself when work demands were placed on him, when he was doing things he liked, and he could even bite himself while giggling at you. This was a hard behavior to define. Because as we wanted to decrease the biting behavior, we wanted to start with the true self-injurious behavior first. So not only did we clearly define the biting behavior, but we also explained about the behavior that could look similar, but was not the target behavior. It turned out that this student bite himself both as a function of avoidance/frustration with the work at hand, but (as a later FBA revealed) also as a means of attention seeking. You can see how important it would be to clearly define the boundaries of each targeted behavior and ensure that the criteria is easily understood by anyone.

2. Collect the Data

Though all school districts are different, many believe that 3-5 days of data collection are enough while others believe 10-14 is adequate. Either way, the more data you have the easier it will be to determine the function later on. Gather the student's team together and discuss how long the data should be collected. Make sure that it is long enough to get adequate data, yet not too long that you are dragging out the process. After all, you want to figure out how to extinguish and replace the problem behavior! Be sure to include things like antecedents, time, duration, placement, task at hand, hypothesized function, etc. Common functions include: social attention, rewards, escape, or for sensory stimulation. Add as many aspects as you think you may need, but try not to make the data collection method too difficult for yourself. Check out my Data Collection Infographic HERE!

3. Analyze the Data

Analyzing is the process of taking all your glorious data and putting it together so it makes sense! Yay! Now, many of you might not enjoy this part of the FBA. It involves calculating and inputting data in a software program of your choice. Personally, I find this part of the process fascinating! You finally get a chance to visually see where the peaks and valleys of the behavior are. I typically use an excel spreadsheet, but feel free to use any software that you like and are familiar with. You could even just graph it manually out on paper if you choose!

4. Determine the Function

Now the even better part! You can hypothesize why your student does what he or she does. By looking at the data you collected and analyzed, you can begin to see the correlations of when, where, how, and hypothesize why your student does what he or she does. Look for correlations between the targeted behavior and other various factors. These factors include setting events, biological factors such as medication, physical environment, work demands, social influences, as well as emotional states and readiness to learn.

Before deciding on a concrete function of the student's behavior you should also consider testing out your hypothesized function by taking data where you can narrow down what the true function is. For example, if your student is biting himself during discrete trial sessions which also happens to be when another child is in the room is being loud, it would be hard to ascertain whether the biting behavior was due to the work demand of trials or due to the loudness of the other student. Try and take data during different parts of the day, different days of the week, etc. Change things up as necessary in order to zero in on one function.

Once you have a function, do a happy dance!

5. Write the Report

On to the report! It's time to sum up everything you learned about this student's target behavior. Time to include everything you did and explain it on paper. Getting all the individual steps down and avenues you took to decide on the function will help fellow team members and parents understand the student more fully and gaining understanding increase tolerance and acceptance of students with autism. It's important for all team members (including parents) to see why your student conducts the behaviors that they do. Frequently, a lack of understanding about behavior leads to a devastating outcome for a student with autism. I have seen students be pulled from general education courses because a student blew his nose too often. It was a behavior that annoyed the teacher enough to want an FBA administered. And as absurd as that probably sounds, I conducted it anyway. I found out that my student blew his nose twice as much during science than art because art was a less demanding topic and a more visual class for this student.

Fueled with this information, it made it easier for me to create a Behavioral Intervention Plan and help the student learn coping mechanisms to deal with his anxiety of science class. Through the process of the BIP, the student learned ways to cope with his anxiety, and thereby decrease his anxiety and the nose blowing behavior attached to it.

Having the FBA conducted also helped the science teacher understand that my student was not just "being a behavior case," but was truly struggling in his classroom. This increased understanding of the function of the nose blowing behavior helped the science teacher accept it, and understand that the student needed added assistance in his class.

And now that you have a grip on why, you can create a Behavioral Intervention Plan where you will decide on interventions and set a plan into action to assist the student with his or her behavior.

You Rock!