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Functional Assessments (FBAs, FAAs)

Functional Assessments for Children with Autism

Healthcare professionals are well versed in deciphering the true meaning behind symptoms or behavior in medical cases. The same tenet holds true in helping people on the autism spectrum. As one expert noted, “Before you begin any treatment plan, you must be able to understand the function of (a) child’s behavior. What is he trying to tell you? Once you are able to analyze the function of your child’s behavior, you will then be able to treat it.” The Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA), used as part of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), is designed to help healthcare professionals uncover the function of behavior which then guides the development and selection of appropriate treatment for individuals with autism.

Once the function of a behavior is understood, Trumpet Behavioral Health behavior specialists will create interventions that include teaching replacement behaviors that serve the same or similar functions as the target behavior as well as developing strategies to decrease the maladaptive behaviors. The functional behavior assessment allows the team of healthcare professionals and behavior therapists to identify and design a plan to decrease problem behaviors and increase appropriate behaviors.

Functions of Behavior

There may be several reasons why a child or adolescent maintains a problem behavior, including: 

  • To escape or avoid something 
  • To gain attention 
  • To gain access to preferred activities or items 
  • Alter sensory stimulation, automatic reinforcement 

To properly address and develop an intervention for a behavior, it’s important for healthcare professionals to determine the behavior’s function by examining the environment in which it occurs. To determine the behavior’s function, healthcare professionals conduct Functional Behavior Assessments. 

Healthcare professionals should keep in mind that interventions for problem behavior are developed according to the behavior’s function, not only on the behavior itself. For example, a child with autism may scream to escape a task, to obtain a tangible item (e.g., candy), to get attention and/or because they enjoy the sensation or sound that screaming creates. Although screaming is one behavior, it can serve many functions. A BCBA will work closely with the team of healthcare professionals to develop a different intervention for each function. This helps ensure that the intervention is not counterproductive.

What Is A Functional Behavior Assessment For Autism?

To help find a reason or function for an individual’s challenging behavior, functional behavior assessment methods look beyond the topography or form of behavior and focus instead upon identifying the function and environmental contingencies that maintain or contribute to a target behavior. This is a common assessment used to inform ABA (or applied behavior analysis) autism treatment plans.  

READ MORE: What Is ABA Therapy?

At Trumpet Behavioral Health, our Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) use the well-established procedures of functional behavior assessment to identify the functions of behavior, which then guide the development and selection of appropriate treatment. Once the goal of the inappropriate behavior is identified, the Trumpet Behavioral Health behavior specialist can work with the team of healthcare professionals to create an autism intervention plan that will reduce the maladaptive behavior.

What A Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) Does

Trumpet’s BCBAs use assessments that have been empirically-validated for use in the development of behavior plans and programming. The consultant will first complete a descriptive assessment, which typically forms the basis for a hypothesis, then determine goals and write a positive behavior plan (PBSP, PBIP). The consultant may also conduct a functional analysis.

There are several outcomes of a functional behavioral assessment, including:

  • Gathering information about the function of the behavior
  • Identifying and defining challenging behaviors
  • Identifying the times, events, and situations that predict when a behavior will and will not occur
  • Identifying reinforcers that maintain the behavior and uses this information as a basis for intervention efforts
  • Enabling a hypothesis about relations between the environment and the problem behavior. 
  • Identifying appropriate alternative and adaptive behaviors
  • Creating goals and develop a positive behavior plan
  • Fostering proactive, positive autism interventions

After the assessments are finished, the BCBA will create a treatment plan, train other autism therapy specialists, and provide consultation and oversight. The autism intervention plan will be implemented by the autism therapist, who will also be responsible for collecting the data necessary to evaluate the interventions once they’re in place.

READ MORE: Program Design, Development, & Implementation

Types of Assessments 

There are several types of functional behavior assessments, and Trumpet’s autism therapy team will work with each individual and their family to determine which assessments are needed for their particular needs. Some of the most common functional behavior assessments are:

Descriptive Assessment

This assessment is completed through observation of the problem behavior in the individual’s natural environment. Analysis components include: 

  • Direct observation
  • Narrative recording
  • Pattern analysis (scatter plot recording)
  • Sequence analysis (ABC recording)
  • Conditional probability analysis

Indirect Assessment

This assessment involves a review of records, structured interviews, and questionnaires.

  • Records review
  • Questionnaires
  • Rating Scales
  • Functional behavioral interviews

Functional Analysis

A functional analysis is conducted by systematically manipulating environmental variables in order to determine the cause of the problem behavior. 

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