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Using Functional Assessment to Select Behavioural Interventions

Hafiz Husnain Younas


There are seven deadly sins, seven sacraments and seven habits of highly effective people.
It has been said that there are only seven jokes and they have all been told. there are only
seven letters of the musical alphabet from which every note of ever composition in Western
music is derived. Despite the title of the song, Paul simon(1976)lists only seven ways to
leave your lover. This chapter argues, using similar logic, that there are only seven
interventions and that they have all been tried.

What is FBA?

FBA is a systematic process for identifying variables that reliably predict and control
problem behaviour. The purpose of FBA is to improve the effectiveness, relevance, and
efficiency of behaviour intervention plans by matching treatment to the individual
characteristics of the child and his or her environment (sugai et al.,2000)

Foundations for FBA

The conceptual framework for FBA began with Skinner’s (1953) radical behaviourism,
which introduced the principles of reinforcement, punishment, extinction and stimulus
control. A problem-solving approach to service delivery emerged as A Core Foundation of
evidence-based practices and school wide service delivery systems based on response to
intervention (rti). the problem-solving approach includes four thematic questions that
provide a framework for assessment and intervention decisions

1. Is there a problem and what is it?

2. Why is the problem happening?

3. What can be done about the problem?

4. Did the intervention work?

What is an FBA:

Have you ever done something you didn’t want to do? have you ever not done something
you wanted to do? If so, you may understand the distinction between FBA and other
approaches to analysing a problem. people often explain behaviour in terms of thoughts,
feelings, intentions and traits: a child acts out or isolates himself because he wants attention,
he feels insecure or he has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). thoughts,
feelings and other “private events “do indeed reliably predict behaviour, but only under some
conditions. A boy may feel angry every time he Hits A peer, but he does not hit a Peer Every
time he he gets angry. A teenage girl may be anxious before every failed test, but she does
not fail a test every time she is anxious. Identifying the conditions under which these private
events predict the occurrence or non-occurrence of important behaviours is the goal of FBA
and a critical path to problem solving.

There is no universally accepted model for conducting an FBA, and practical applications
in schools vary considerably. Existing frameworks include most of the following

1. Clarify the purpose of assessment

2. Define the problem

3. Develop a progress monitoring system

4. Identify variables that are functionally related to targeted responses

5. Design interventions

6. Evaluate interventions

Step 1: clarify the purpose of assessment

The first step is for school-based multidisciplinary teams to clarify the purpose of FBA, the
explicit purpose of an FBA is to better understand the conditions that increase or decrease
the frequency, duration or intensity of behavior. Thus more time may be spent assessing the
environment than the child. For example the aggressive behaviours of two children with
ADHD may “look” the same, but one child engages in aggression to access adult attention,
whereas the other engages in aggression to escape demands

Step 2: define the problem

A problem can be defined in the terms of skill deficit, performance deficit, and performance
Skill deficit: the term skill refers to the form of a behaviours as smiling, driving a car, or
talking back to a teacher. Skills are often acquired through teaching or modelling, and
fluency is achieved through repetition, feedback and. thus one type of problem arises when
a child has not mastered an appropriate, desirable skill, such as accepting feedback from
teachers, cooperating with others, or ignoring distractions. Witt et al (2000) referred to this
situation as a “Can’t do “problem, and logical intervention for skills problems is to provide
elements of instruction.

Performance deficit: performance refers to the occurrence of mastered skills in relation to

contextual expectations or demands. A performance deficit arises when a child has mastered
a Skill But does not perform the skill at an appropriate frequency, duration or intensity. for
example, a student may comprehend a civics chapter and display proficient writing skills,
but he or she does not complete an essay assignment on time. Witt et all. (2000) referred to
this situation as “would not do” problem, and the logical intervention is to strengthen

Performance excess: performance excesses are the most often problem in literature
examples of FBA. A performance excess arises when a child has mastered an undesirable
skill and performance exceeds contextual expectations or demands. Crying for example is
developmentally appropriate response when teased, when loved one is ill, or when an exam
is failed. This situation might best be framed as a “Won’t do” problem and the logical
intervention is to weaken motivation.

Step :3 develop a progress monitoring system

The third step in an FBA is to develop a measurement system that can be used to monitor
the child’s progress and response-to-intervention in the target or natural setting. This task is
more challenging for interventions that target performance rather than skills. It should be
conducted in the natural classroom or social setting.

Direct observation: One common approach is interval recording, which involves dividing
an observation period into equal intervals (e.g.,1 minute), and coding the occurrence or
nonoccurrence of target behavior during each interval. For example, a 30-minute
observation divided into 15-second intervals might be sufficient for talking out in class
whereas an observation over the entire school day divided into seven 1-hour intervals might
be sufficient for monitoring the frequency of peer aggression.
Direct behavior ratings: Another approach to monitoring behavior intervention s is to
incidentally observe behavior during and then rate performance according to subjective

Step 4: Identify variables that are functionally related to Target responses

The relationship between behavior and environmental events van be described us ing three

Positive reinforcement: positive reinforcement occurs when an event is presented

contingent on the occurrence of behavior and strengthens performance (frequency, duration,
intensity) of that behavior. Praise, feedback and privileges are common examples of positive
reinforcement if these consequences increase performance.

Negative reinforcement: Negative reinforcement occurs when an event is removed or

avoided contingent on the occurrence of behavior and strengths performance of that
behavior. This process usually begins with the presence of some aversive condition, such as
a challenging task or physical threat, which establishes the motivation to escape the
condition or reduce discomfort.

Note: both positive and negative reinforcement increase performance , “positive” refers to
adding a desired event, whereas “negative” refers to removing or avoiding undesired event.

Step 5:design interventions

There are only seven interventions, and they have all been tried. This may seem at odds with
the facts, as 141 chapters are needed to compile “best practices” in school psychology
(thomas & Grimes, 2008)

1 skill acquisition through teaching interactions: to acquire skill intervention involve

teaching interactions that may include one or more of the following modelling, instructions
or feedback. There are many research-based demonstrations of teaching appropriate skills,
such as self-management, social initiations, and cognitive problem solving.

2 improving fluency through increased opportunities to respond: Problems may occur

if a desired skill is acquired but fluent responding is not achieved. For example, hitting a
golf ball takes practice, and if there are long breaks between opportunities to play, the proper
technique may be learned it mastery may be delayed or never achieved. Proficiency in
important social or adaptive skills require s frequent practice and one method for increasing
fluency is to provide frequent opportunities to respond.

3 altering establishing operations to address performance deficits: if the child possess a

requisite desirable skill yet performance is below expectations, one choice of intervention is
to alter motivation by maximizing variables that enhance the effectiveness of existing

4 differential reinforcement to address performance deficits: perhaps the most familiar

and widely used intervention for increasing performance is differential reinforcement. For
example Dr.tariq increase the positive social interactions of a 13-year-old girl by arranging
for peers to provide public praise statements directed to the child’s pro social behavior.

Increase in performance can also be achieved through differential negative reinforcement,

which refers to the contingent removal of an aversive event when an appropriate response
or performance occurs. Example of this strategy is using “eye contact” when issuing

5 altering establishing operations to reduce performance excesses : For a child with a

performance excess, one intervention choice involves minimizing those variables that
established the effectiveness of reinforcement. Some examples of this intervention strategy
are providing choice, curricular revision, and non-contingent reinforcement. Powell and
Nelson (1997) allowed a 7-year-old boy ADHD a choice among three assignments.
Compared with conditions in which he was not allowed a choice, the percentage of
disruptive behaviour was much lower despite the same Levels of Teacher interaction across
both conditions.

6 differential reinforcement to decrease performance excesses: if the performance of

inappropriate responses exceeds expectations, one intervention option is to reduce
performance by reversing the contingencies.

Handler and mcgoey (2001), for example reduced levels of aggression maintained by
positive reinforcement in the form of access to toys for one child.

7 extinction: it is also possible to reduce performance excesses by withholding the source

of reinforcement. Umbreit (1995) used extinction of peer attention to reduce levels of
disruptive behaviour exhibited in a classroom setting by an 8 –year-old boy with ADHD.a a
brief functional analysis indicated that the child’s problem behaviours were maintained by
peer attention, which was removed by changing seating arrangements so that the child was
working alone or with peers who ignored his misbehaviour. Reductions in disruptive
behaviour across several settings were immediate and dramatic.

The final step in FBA is to evaluate interventions

The ultimate purpose of conducting an FBA is to improve student outcomes and this is
accomplished by implementing one or more interventions that address skill deficits,
performance deficits and performance excesses.