Seven Steps of Functional Behaviour Assessment

A user's guide to the seven steps of FBA from definition to intervention and evaluation.

steps of functional behaviour assessments

Functional Behaviour Assessments (FBAs) are integral tools in behavioural analysis, widely used to address and manage behaviours of concern in the home, at school or in care.

FBA is a step by step process which typically starts with the identification of the behaviour of concern and concludes with an evaluation to see if the interventions designed as a result of the behaviour assessment have worked.

This article aims to guide you through the seven steps from Functional Behaviour Assessment followed by the development of the positive behaviour support plan (PBS) and conclude with the evaluation to see if the interventions outlined in the PBS as a result of the behaviour assessment have made a positive difference.

The seven steps from FBA to PBS are:

  1. Identify the behaviour of concern
  2. Gather Information
  3. Analyse the Information
  4. Formulate a Hypothesis
  5. Develop a Positive Behaviour Support Plan (or Intervention Plan)
  6. Implement the Plan / Intervention
  7. Monitor and Evaluate


Step 1: Identify the Behaviour of Concern.

The objective in step 1 is to clearly identify and define the behaviour of concern in order to effectively address it. This involves providing a detailed description of the behaviour that is both observable and measurable.

FBAs are also a collaborative process between teachers, parents and care givers so it’s really important to all agree on what the behaviour of concern is, what it looks like and how it impacts the individual and those around them.

This level of detail can also help to identify any potential underlying causes of the behaviour, as well as potential solutions for addressing it.

To begin, directly observe the behaviour of concern in different settings (home, school, outdoors) and ensure everyone taking part in the assessment has been able to observe the behaviour too.

Is the behaviour always the same? Does it vary in severity? Is there more than one behaviour of concern?

Try to describe the single or multiple behaviours in a way that all participants in the FBA can agree on.

Avoid using generalisations when describing the behaviour and be specific instead. So, for example, try not to say ‘aggressive behaviour’ but instead specify ‘kicks by using his right food to make contact with another person's leg’ and ‘throws objects that are in close proximity with enough force that the object makes physical contact with another person's body leaving a mark on the person’s skin.

Being very specific may mean you do end up with two or more observable behaviours of concern that could be loosely grouped in a category such as ‘aggressive behaviour’ but we still want to observe specific behaviours of concern that occur more than once.

This clear identification and definition will ensure everyone is looking for and is ready to observe the same behaviour during the assessment.

Having a clear definition also helps us at the very end of the assessment where we attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of the interventions and whether they are helping reduce or eliminate occurrences of the behaviour of concern.

Example behaviour of concern definition

Target behaviour: ‘Property Destruction’.

Operationally defined behaviour: Sam will gouge a surface (wall, table) with a screw driver with such force that it creates hole in the surface.


Step 2: Gather Information

When defining Functional Behaviour Assessment, we often refer simply to step 2 - gathering information. This is because step 2 takes the longest and is really the bulk of any FBA.

For an assessment to take place we observe and record information about the behaviour of concern. The information should be detailed and specific.

To do this, we look for the ABC of any behaviour event we find concerning.

  • A - antecedent
  • B - behaviour
  • C - consequence


Observe the context and triggers that led to the behaviour of concern. What drove the individual to behave in this way? What time of day was it? Where were you? What are the conditions present?


Observe the actual behaviour. What did the individual do?


Observe what the consequences were for the individual and those around them.

Record what you observe in any given moment. But, in addition you may also find it helpful to gather supporting observations from others that have experienced or witnessed the behaviour of concern. Interview teachers, family members or friends.

Look for past records to see if this kind of behaviour has occurred before and whether anyone was keeping notes on it then. This kind of data may include medical history, emotional state, and social environment.

It's important to gather all forms of data surrounding the individual and the behaviour in question. For instance, the data may reveal that the behaviour occurs more frequently in certain situations or in the presence of certain people.


Step 3: Analyse the Information

Over time, a clear picture is likely to develop but in order to discover that we need to analyse the A-B-C observations we have made. This enables us to identify patterns and potential triggers.

Look for commonalities in the build up and consequences of the behaviour.

A regular situation the individual finds stressful might be the trigger for the behaviour of concern. Or, a build up of stressors might lead to the behaviour each time it occurs.

For example, when Sam gets home from school he is often extremely tired. Sam needs to relax for a while before he can engage in other activities.

His calm down routine after he gets home is to go straight into the kitchen to make himself a a snack and then chill out in his room listening to music for 30 mins. He is then able to engage in activities.

However, upon returning from school if he is given chores (e.g. asked to take groceries out of the car) or get ready (e.g. basketball practice session) or hang out with others he engages in behaviours of concern.

Without careful observation, we might not be able to spot the patterns that lead to such a crisis point for the child.

Similarly, if the consequences of a behaviour of concern consistently achieve something for the person, the behaviour is likely to continue. For example, in Sam’s situation he has learnt that if engages in behaviours of concern people give him space. In other words he gets to escape interaction and gain the calming activity he needed.

Step 4: Formulate a Hypothesis

After gathering information about the A-B-C, it is important to form a hypothesis about its function or purpose. This involves considering the possible reasons why an individual is engaging in a certain behaviour.

Determine if the function of the behaviour is social attention, access to tangible items or preferred activities, escape or avoidance of demands and activities, and sensory sensitivities. Collaborate with your team of parents, teachers and other members of the individual’s support team. Discuss the observations.

In your hypothesis an ‘if-then statement’ can then be created by looking at the antecedents and consequences of the behaviour. For instance, if a certain antecedent occurs, then the student will engage in a behaviour of concern, which will lead to a specific maintaining consequence.

Here is an example of a student in class being disruptive. Jacob’s behaviour is concerning and disruptive but with some analysis and some hypothesising, the school identifies the underlying cause:

Jacob bangs his feet on the floor during independent reading time in the classroom (the antecedents). The more his teacher tells him to quiet his feet the louder he bangs them 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 starts paying attention to him and he gets to avoid doing his reading which he finds boring.

Read next: Tools for Conducting an Effective Functional Behaviour Assessment.

Step 5: Develop a Positive Behaviour Support Plan / Intervention

With the analysis done and our working hypothesis complete, we can start to plan how we are going to intervene. Let’s be clear, the objective is to prevent the behaviour of concern from happening to give the individual more autonomy and control, better learning outcomes and overall improved quality of life. The benefits also extend to those around them, typically classmates.

Consider interventions such as environmental modifications, revised breaks, positive reinforcement and skills teaching.

We have a wealth of information on this website to do with Positive Behaviour Support Plans and effective behaviour interventions on our behaviour blog.

Here are a few articles that support step 5 well:

Step 6: Implement the Intervention

Let’s put the plan into action. As with the identification of the behaviour of concern, information gathering and assessment, the implementation is also a team effort among parents, caregivers and teachers.

Maintain a consistent approach between all of the participants and in different settings such as at home and at school. Consistency really is key to providing the individual with clear expectations and boundaries.

If the interventions are implemented effectively at home but not at school, the behaviour of concern is likely to continue in at least one of, if not both of those environments and may lead to further confusion and dissatisfaction from the individual as they experience one set of expectations at home and another at school.

Provide training to ensure that everyone involved understands their roles and the intervention strategies.

Finally, keep detailed notes and document how the plan is being implemented with any immediate outcomes. That is to say, as the intervention is being implemented continue to observe and record those observations as in step 2.

Step 7: Monitor and Evaluate

To get the most value out of all of the work done so far, we need to continue to evaluate and monitor the behaviour as time goes on. Regularly question whether the interventions put in place are working and reducing or eliminating the observed behaviour of concern.

Are there any new behaviours of concern? Hold meetings with your collaborators to discuss progress and any challenges that are present. Be prepared to make adjustments to your intervention strategy as you go along.

Final thoughts

Implementing an FBA is a dynamic and detailed process. Each step builds upon the last, requiring careful attention and thoughtful analysis.

This approach is not just about reducing problematic behaviours but also about understanding and respecting the individual’s needs and helping them develop more effective and appropriate ways of interacting with their environment.

Whether you are a teacher, therapist, or caregiver, understanding these seven steps can empower you to conduct FBAs that make a significant difference in the lives of those you work with.

Positive Behaviour Support Resources and Services

Everything parents, educators and professionals need to help children of all ages learn positive ways of behaving and managing emotions so that they can be happier, healthier and reach their full potential.

Behaviour Help is a registered NDIS provider.

Ask Dolly

Since you’re here, you probably have questions and concerns. I am Dolly Bhargava, am here to help. I am a NDIS registered behaviour support practitioner and speech pathologist.

I have worked in a number of settings for over 21 years so, how can I help?

Please tell me what is worrying you right now and I will do my best to recommend resources and/or services that will be most useful to you in your situation.

Meet Dolly Bhargava, profile picture