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Welcome to a forum dedicated to applied behavior analysis. The purpose of this blog is to provide a forum for students, parents and professionals to access information and discuss timely concerns regarding the science of applied behavior analysis in a reader-friendly manner.

I have fallen off the blog recently, mostly due to the completion of my dissertation and spending time with my daughter. As I delve back into the home-based and consultation world, topics to discuss and share with those interested in applied behavior analysis appears endless. I hope to take this blog in a direction of bridging the gap across the various orientations towards working with and teaching children with autism and related disorders...I'm a behavior analyst through and through, but we can do better in various domains that we have been hesitant to discuss in the past. My interests are veering into the realm of self-regulation, problem-solving, relationship development in addition to working with children with substantial interfering behavior. Comments and discussion is both welcome and desired.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Goal: To become a living, breathing functional behavior assessment.

Functional behavior assessment (FBA) often carries a mysterious aura. Many professionals have an idea about FBA, think that they basically know what it is, but don't know how to begin to conduct an FBA, and nor do they want to. My goal in my consultation and teaching is to de-mystify functional behavior assessment. Teachers should become walking, living, breathing functional behavior assessors. FBA should not be something that is always formally conducted; rather, we need to keep the key questions of FBA constantly available to us and become fluent with asking ourselves these questions, so that when we observe a behavior, we can fluently functionally assess the behavior on the spot. 

In our classrooms and homes, a full functional behavior assessment is not always possible. But it is important for teachers and therapists to learn to ask ourselves the key FBA questions to try and identify what is going on in order to inform intervention. So, some questions to keep on your mind....always...

1. Why do I think he is engaging in this behavior? A simple question, but at the crux of FBA. Function=Why. Why is the child engaging in this behavior? To escape the task? To get something he wants? To get my attention? Breaking it down and asking the question in the moment, helps us to think analytically about the behavior not only will help inform intervention, but helps the teacher take a step back and see the behavior for what it is, communicative, and not personal. 

2. Is there a setting that appears to occasion this behavior? Does it occur more during certain activities? AFter a transition? When leaving a preferred activity for a non-preferred activity? When there are more or less people in the room? After a long weekend or break? Identifying patterns in when the problem behavior occurs informs intervention as we can then develop a plan to work within that setting or activity. For example, if we identify that a problem behavior occurs during writing workshop, we can target writing workshop by a) breaking down the activities into smaller mini-activities within he workshop to make it more manageable, b) we can pair the environment positively and use the child's preferences incorporated into the workshop, c) we can make sure that writing workshop does NOT follow a preferred activity, but rather is followed by a preferred activity to act as a natural reinforcer, d) provide additional support during this activity, e) teach functional communication to replace the inappropriate behavior in this context. 

3. Is there a consistent antecedent to the behavior? Meaning, what usually happens just before the behavior? Identifying this pattern may also help to inform intervention. 

4. Is there a consistent consequence to this behavior? What usually happens after the behavior that may be maintaining the behavior? Is my behavior as a teacher maintaining the inappropriate behavior? How can I change my behavior while teaching my student/child a new behavior. 

These questions should be asked of ourselves as teachers with fluency when observing behavior. This is not to say that formal functional behavior assessment is not necessary; however it isn't always feasible. Working in a busy and active classroom, it isn't possible for a teacher to stop, complete every data sheet necessary, and observe behavior taking note of antecedents and consequences. It is however possible, with practice, to think FBA all the time. 


Gabrielle said...

These four questions make so much sense to me now. It seems that whenever I notice something happening with a child I instantly think 'why could this be happening, when do I notice it occurring, what could be the reason?' I use it outside the classroom as well. This is just a good strategy in understanding people. It's becoming a regular occurrence in my life to question the behaviors of the people around me and to try to get to the bottom of them. In my classroom, specifically, I feel like I am just more aware. Having these questions already in my mind, I look at my children in a different way. I feel capable of, if not just understanding their behaviors, at least getting a better idea of their many differences. I know being able to ask these questions is making me a more well-rounded teacher, keeping me on the ball with my children and just more aware.

Anonymous said...

I probably fall short of wanting to "become a living breathing functional behavior assessment," but that doesn't keep me from agreeing wholeheartedly that teachers of all stripes must be kid watchers. (There now, that sounds warmer and fuzzier, doesn't it?) I subscribe too to the idea that its a teacher's business to think about why students do the things they do, and to test those speculations by remarking what happens when we respond to that behavior. Thinking about why we respond the way we do, and what that says about what we value, isn't a bad idea either. Thinking about how to respond so that our actions will help our students become more socially engaged and adept, so that they will be able to grow and learn as much as possible, also fits nicely into my working definition of a teacher. But thinking along those lines would seem to lead inevitably to a whole series of assumptions about learning and the human mind that a behavioral specialist will leave unacknowledged as well as unexamined. Maybe no acknowledgement or examination is necessary or even possible, but I can't help but feel that in order to be effective as teachers we have to try to know how what we are doing jives with what we say we believe and what we say we value. Even if only because its being practiced badly, behaviorism so often seems to short circuit any attempt to take a look in one's own mirror first. The heavy emphasis on only what can be seen and measured would seem inevitably to devalue the mirror which one hangs inside one's head.

Nonetheless, I deeply appreciate the central assumption of behaviorists that all behavior has meaning and is a type of communication, but still, I can't help but recall that the idea (that all behavior has meaning and communicates its intentions)was pretty important to, say, Freud, or Jung, or any one of a whole host of psychological theorists who would have been appalled to have been tagged as behaviorists.

That I hate the clunky jargon doesn't mean that I don't believe that what will work to get one child to behave decently or do his or her school work may not work with another. That is, yes, children have differing motives for doing what they do just like the rest of us.

What I've appreciated most though has been what seems (to me at least)the new focus on making changes in the setting, in the way the day is organized, in the routines and rituals of schooling so that children who are struggling become more successful and competent. The emphasis on trying to figure out what a child is trying to accomplish with a particular behavior so that one can teach him/her a more effective (dare I say harmonious?) way to get it strikes me as humanism at its best. And, of course, I've always that that the behaviorists what to be scientists above all else and often seen as contemptuous of the humanities.

J. Gray

Elaine Chiu (SPEDE 772) said...

I never realized all the different principles of behavior analysis until I started studying ABA. It is something that I have always done unconsciously or consciously as a teacher, but without structure or reason to why I was doing it. While I would look at a child and wonder why they are doing a certain behavior and ask myself what I can do to help this child, there was no guideline to what questions were the right questions to ask and how we should measure all of this in the end. I’ve also observed over the last few years in different classrooms how necessary it is for teachers to constantly observe children in the class and to know when it is appropriate to formally assess and intervene. As teachers, it is our job to not only educate academically, but to assist a child in learning all the necessary skills that they would need in life. If a certain behavior or problem is occurring in the child’s life, and as a teacher we do not take notice or care to take notice of it, it hinders not only that student, but other students in the class as well in their learning or social activities. That’s why it’s important to ask the questions, “Why is the child engaging in this behavior?” and the other questions posted above. By asking these 4 questions, it doesn’t necessarily require a formal functional behavioral assessment, but it keeps a teacher aware of their students and classroom environment. To have these 4 questions written out also helps provide a guideline to how we should start asking questions and observing our students. Thus, I agree that as teachers, we should become a living, breathing, functional behavior assessment.

JSheehan said...

I think it is extremely important to constantly ask ourselves these questions when in any type of classroom. Whether working with elementary age children ro high school, general ed or special needs, these questions help us shape our daily plans. When I first heard the term FBA I had no idea what it was. All I kept hearing was that they needed to be done as a lat resort. Now that I am aware of what is actually involved in an FBA, I realize that as teachers we perform them everyday, informally. Not only do we need to do this on the children, but on ourselves as well so we can change or innappropriate behavior and responses to our students to get better responses from them.

Angela Mouzakitis, BCBA said...

I loved the post John, but I must say I am curious by what you mean by "looking in own's own mirror" and how that is antithetical to behaviorism?

Regarding our belief systems, I agree as well, that you need to practice what you are comfortable with, and what you can live with. For some, thinking in numbers and trying to objectively interpret observable behavior is challenging. However, behavior analysis is not about belief. It is not a religion. It is a scientific and systematic application of behavior principles to understand, monitor, and yes change, behavior. But it isn't really about belief. The principles exist whether you choose to believe in them or not.

I do however enjoy your warmer and fuzzier interpretation, and still contend that we don't actually disagree.

Luann R. SPEDE 772 said...

After reading this blog all the questions stated to ask yourself made complete sense. Working in a classroom with 10 students on the spectrum it is very hard to be constantly tracking data and implementing 10 different programs through out the day. However if you take the time to try to figure out why the child is doing a certain behavior and have the constant mindset of the 4 questions listed, you may find that it can be easier to figure out what you can do to help that child. I always like to try to get into the world of the child when i am working with them and try to feel what they are getting out of a certain behavior, most of the time i cannot figure out what the reasoning is that the child engages in such behavior, but i always think that it is worth a try. I think that it is very important to have a running list in your head as to why you think a child is engaging in a certain activity, what is happening before or after that activity for that behavior to occur. It can make a world of difference in your classroom and the child as well.

Madeline said...

Madeline Almonte (SPEDE 772)

When I first read your posting “Goal: To become a living, breathing, functional behavior assessment”, I found it to be a powerful statement.” Not only did it make me aware of your dedication in conducting Functional Behavior Assessments (FBA), but it empowered me as well. As I read, I kept thinking about the importance of conducting FBA when I want to target a behavior.

After two months of trying to figure out how to approach one of my students constant crying and repetition of words, I began to think FBA. In a matter of a day, I realized that the two weeks I dedicated in providing positive reinforcement was not working because my teacher assistant decided that she was not going to use that approach with him while I was away for lunch. Instead, when he refused to eat she screamed at him, took away his lunch, and informed him that he was not getting his potato chips and juice. On top of that, he was to sit in a corner for the entire time that the rest of the children were eating.

In thinking FBA, I realized that the approach was not working after I arrived from lunch. It encouraged me to question all staff present during lunchtime. Being able to think FBA, made me search for answers to identify the problem. After realizing the problem, I communicated with the staff member on the importance of providing positive feedbacks and positively motivating students to eat. Her approach only led the child to become more upset and engage in more inappropriate behaviors throughout the day.

It took two days for him to figure out that we were not giving in to his inappropriate behaviors but will give him all the love and attention when engaged in appropriate behaviors (i.e., using his words to express his wants and needs, engaging in class activities). We continue to see positive changes and the mother reported changes at home as well (i.e., using his words and less tantrums) .

I can honestly say that FBA is a wonderful tool in developing knowledge in identifying inappropriate behaviors and incorporating a successful approach.
My goal is to continue thinking FBA in order to understand and monitor challenging behaviors.

Marci said...

Hi there..I'm a grad student getting my Masters in Special Education. I am doing my final action research project now. I want to continue my studies in ABA. For my action research project I want to do something using ABA with Special Education children. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated..I'm having a really hard time choosing a topic that is just right!