Functional Behaviour Assessment
Functional Behaviour Assessment (FBA) is an evidence-based and systematic assessment process of collecting and analysing information from various sources that helps to gain insights into the factors contributing the behaviour and identify why a behaviour is occurring i.e., the “function/s” of the behaviour.
If we know why someone is exhibiting behaviours of concern, we can structure an effective response in order to assist them.
In a variety of settings, FBAs are an essential tool for gathering information so we can write an effective Positive Behaviour Support Plan (PBSP). The PBSP involves utilising a person-centred and strength-based approach to address the needs of the individual, the underlying causes of behaviours of concern and overall quality of life.
PBSP are useful to support the individual in settings such as home, school / college, day service, short breaks / respite, family members or friend’s homes, out in the community and on holiday.
FBAs are commonly used when an individual is exhibiting behaviours of concern that are of such frequency, intensity and duration that they are negatively impacting their daily life, education, leisure, work, and social life.
A positive behaviour support plan can be useful for children, adolescents and adults with emotional and behavioural difficulties, developmental delays, autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, learning disabilities, dementia and mental health disorders.
FBAs are useful with supporting children, adolescents and adults with emotional and behavioural difficulties.
Here at Behaviour help we use FBAs regularly to address behaviours of concern. We also advocate for their use by teachers, care givers and parents and can provide training on how to conduct FBAs in the home, at school or in a care setting.
We also provide an app called ‘Behaviour Help App’ that consists of a functional behaviour assessment tool that you can carry with you. Behaviours of concern can occur at anytime and anywhere so the app is designed to help you record your observations and easily shar3 them with your collaborators in the assessment.
Key Observations of a Functional Behaviour Assessment
Observations are the foundation of any FBA. Whenever a behaviour of concern takes place, we are looking to observe:
- The context, precursors and surrounding environment. What led to the individual behaving this way? (antecedent)
- The behaviour itself, what did the individual do? How did they behave in that moment? (behaviour)
- What were the consequences? (consequence)
A great way to remember the types of observations we need to carry out is ‘ABC’: Antecedent, Behaviour, Consequence.
The purpose of these observations is to try and understand the purpose of the behaviour of concern (such as attention, escape, access and sensory needs) to then allow us to tailor a personalised Positive Behaviour Support Plan (PBSP).
An example assessment
Jacob bangs his feet on the floor during independent reading time in the classroom (the antecedents). The more his teacher tells him to be quiet the louder he bangs his feet and the more he distracts his classmates (the consequences).
After this behaviour continues for the first few months of school, his teacher is feeling stuck with how to respond and requests an FBA. The school does an FBA and learns that Jacob does not get attention from important people when he reads quietly.
As soon as he starts banging his feet, his teacher (who he likes) and his classmates start paying attention to him and he gets to avoid doing his reading which he finds boring.
The primary goal of an FBA is to identify the factors that contribute to the occurrence and maintenance of a particular behaviour.
Based on this information, a Positive Behaviour Support Plan (PBSP) is designed to help manage the behaviour. The interventions included in the behaviour support plan are customised to meet the specific needs of the individual based on insights into the underlying reasons for the behaviour.
Research has shown that interventions developed from an FBA are more likely to be effective in reducing the rates of concerning behaviours.
Collaboration between parents, care givers and educators during assessment
Critical to observing behaviours of concern is a collaboration between the various team members such as parents, educators, allied health professionals, disability support workers, and other key people. When conducting an FBA work together to record observations in a consistent format and bring your findings together.
Effectiveness of FBAs
It is important to stress that the nature of these observations only ever have the long term welfare of the individual in mind. The FBA isn’t about ‘calling out’ behaviours of concern or policing ‘bad behaviour’, the assessment is more about understanding the context and triggers that cause outbursts so we can all help.
FBAs are very effective. They help us develop personalised interventions tailored to the specific needs of the individual. They are very proactive and aim to address the environmental triggers of the behaviour of concern rather than just reacting to the behaviour itself.
Perhaps most importantly, FBAs significantly reduce inappropriate interventions. By understanding the functions of a behaviour, inappropriate or ineffective interventions (like punishment that doesn't address the root cause) can be avoided.
There is also widespread professional support in psychology, education, and behavioural therapy advocating for the use of functional behaviour assessments.
Organisations like the American Psychological Association and various educational bodies often recommend FBAs as best practice.
However, FBAs can be time consuming and consume significant resources. Some also raise ethical concerns in terms of gathering detailed information about an individual’s behaviour.
In order to conduct an effective FBA that truly serves the individual concerned, it is helpful to be aware of these criticisms in order that we can find ways to ensure the observations are ethical, do respect privacy and try not to consume too much of the teacher, parent or care giver’s time.
FBAs for Individuals with Learning Disabilities or Behavioural Conditions
Functional behaviour assessments are particularly useful for individuals with emotional and behavioural difficulties because they can assist with the team supporting the individual to develop a shared understanding of the reasons underlying behaviours of concern. Then using this understanding to develop a PBSB.
The resulting PBSP is so personal and individualised, they help us develop a deep understanding of what triggers and reinforces problematic behaviour and therefore what interventions can be most effective.
Behaviour is a form of communication. FBAs help in interpreting this 'language,' understanding what the individual is trying to convey or achieve through their behaviour.
In this vein, FBAs respect the individuality of each person. By avoiding one-size-fits-all solutions, they promote inclusivity and respect for the person's needs and circumstances.
Hence, FBAs are a very positive tool in achieving positive outcomes.