Rebekah Heinrichs, MSN, Ms Ed
"Conducting a Meaningful Functional Behavioral Assessment"
Many times students with Asperger Syndrome and related disorders
exhibit behaviors in the school environment that challenge teachers
and limit learning. Since behavior does not occur in a vacuum, it is
important to conduct a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) before
developing an individualized Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP). The
FBA will help identify factors in the environment that contribute to
the behaviors in question. The primary focus during this process
should be assessment of the reason or "function" of the behaviors
Regrettably, the process of conducting an appropriate FBA and then
developing an individualized BIP are concepts that are often
misunderstood and mismanaged in educational practice.
Many times when behavior becomes an issue, an incomplete assessment is
performed that merely documents behaviors without taking into
consideration why the behaviors are occurring and what environmental
factors are present before, during, and after the behaviors occur.
Also, the assessment may not meet standards of objectivity, which is
absolutely critical to the successful creation of a meaningful FBA.
Further complicating matters, interventions are often fashioned with
an intense focus on extinguishing unwanted behaviors. When this is the
case, the BIP typically will not contain appropriate positive
behavioral supports due to a subsequent lack of understanding of the
real function or reason for the observed behaviors. As a result, the
BIP will most likely fail to contribute much in the way of positive
By definition, a true FBA requires an evaluation of what antecedents
are present in the environment before the behavior occurs and the
consequences of the behavior. In other words, it is important to
consider what happens before, during and after these behaviors occur.
This assessment must be objective and use a variety of different
methods or tools of assessment. Information can and should be obtained
by a review of all pertinent records, interviews, and of course
observations across a variety of different environments and time frames.
There are many resources and tested tools that can help provide
information. People who are familiar with the student in a variety of
different capacities can potentially contribute pertinent insights and
details. These contributions must never be disregarded or ignored
based on preconceived beliefs and prejudices. Information gathered
from the completed assessment will then be used to establish credible
hypotheses related to the possible function of identified behaviors.
Only then, can the process of developing the positive BIP begin in
Before designing a BIP, it is wise to keep in mind a few common
pitfalls associated with behaviorism. Paula Kluth (2004), an
educational consultant and expert in autism spectrum disorders,
recommends the following cautions when designing behavior plans. She
advises that educators "recognize the limits of behaviorism, avoid
removing students from the classroom and not make compliance the
goal." These recommendations take into consideration that the use of
reinforcements and rewards as well as punishments has the potential to
be used in ways that "harm, hurt, or humiliate learners." When an
appropriate FBA is completed and the information is then applied to
the development of an individualized BIP, the results are often
dramatic and positive.