What is a Functional Behavior Assessment

What is a Functional Behavior Assessment

teacher performing FBA on autistic student

If your child is working with an ABA therapist then one of the first things that they probably performed was a functional behavior assessment (FBA). 

In this article we are going to take an in depth look at what a FBA is and how it is used in ABA therapy.

Let’s begin.  

What is a functional behavior assessment

First let’s get the clinical definition of a functional behavior assessment.

A FBA is a process used to identify the specific behaviors that are causing difficulties and to understand the factors that are maintaining or causing those behaviors. 

The goal of an FBA is to develop a hypothesis about why the behavior is occurring, and to use that information to create an effective behavior intervention plan.

Now that you have a basic definition, let’s take a closer look at the steps during an FBA. 

The functional behavior assessment process

A functional behavior assessment typically involves the following six steps:

Problem identification: This step involves identifying the specific problem behavior and gathering information about the behavior, such as its frequency, duration, intensity, and the context in which it occurs.

Data collection: This step involves collecting data on the problem behavior through various methods, such as direct observation, interviews with teachers, parents, and other relevant parties, and a review of relevant records.

Data analysis: In this step, the data collected is analyzed to identify patterns, trends, and possible functions of the behavior.

Hypothesis generation: Based on the data analysis, a hypothesis about the function of the behavior is generated. The hypothesis explains why the behavior is occurring and what the person is getting out of the behavior.

Intervention design: Using the information gathered in the previous steps, an intervention plan is developed. The plan should include strategies that address the identified function of the behavior and teach new, more appropriate skills or behaviors.

Implementation, monitoring, and evaluation: The intervention plan is implemented, progress is monitored, and adjustments are made as needed. The process is continually evaluated to ensure that the intervention is effective and that the problem behavior is being reduced or eliminated.

Who can conduct a functional behavior assessment

A functional behavior assessment can be conducted by a variety of professionals, including:

  • Special education teachers
  • School psychologists
  • Behavioral analysts
  • Speech-language pathologists
  • Occupational therapists
  • Social workers
  • School counselors
  • Other trained professionals with experience in behavior analysis and intervention.

How long does a functional behavior assessment take

The length of time it takes to conduct a functional behavior assessment can vary depending on a number of factors, including the complexity of the behavior, the availability of data, and the resources available to the assessor. 

Typically, an FBA can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks to complete.

Now that you know what a FBA is, let’s give you a real world example of one in action. 

Real world FBA example

Here is an example of how an ABA therapist would perform an FBA:

Child: John, a 7-year-old boy with autism

Behavior: Noncompliance during transition times (e.g. refusing to leave the playground during recess, refusing to leave the classroom to go to lunch)

Assessment process

Observations: The therapist observes John during transition times in various settings (e.g. classroom, playground, lunchroom) to gather information about the behavior. The therapist records the frequency, duration, and intensity of the noncompliance.

Interviews: The therapist interviews John’s teachers, parents, and other relevant individuals (e.g. para-professional) to gather information about the behavior and the context in which it occurs.

Data analysis: The therapist reviews the data collected from observations and interviews to identify patterns and possible functions of the behavior.

Hypothesis: Based on the data analysis, the therapist hypothesizes that the noncompliance during transition times is a form of escape behavior and serves the function of avoiding unpleasant tasks or activities.

Intervention plan: The therapist develops an intervention plan that addresses the function of the behavior. The plan includes teaching John alternative communication skills to express his needs and wants, and providing him with a visual schedule for transition times to increase predictability and reduce anxiety.

Implementation and monitoring: The therapist implements the intervention plan and monitors John’s progress by collecting data on his noncompliance during transition times. The therapist modifies the plan as needed based on the data collected.

It’s important to note that this is a simplified example and that in real-world situations, an FBA would typically involve more steps, data collection and analysis, and collaboration with other professionals to gather a more comprehensive understanding of the child and the behavior.


We hope you found this information useful. If you want to learn more about ABA therapy or autism check out our blog. 

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