To understand what an FBA is, first its important to understand behavior. A behavior is any observable and measurable action that someone does. Talking is a behavior, thinking is not. All behavior occurs for a reason, and the goal of an FBA is to discover that reason. Once the reason is discovered, then (and only then) an intervention can be created. An intervention is the plan of action. If you tell your behavioral consultant that your son tantrums whenever you try to give him a bath, the plan of action the consultant gives to you is the intervention. A common question I get asked is “Do I have to do a FBA, or hire someone to do a FBA, in order to intervene on a behavior”? The answer is no, you do not. However, understand that without first doing a FBA to discover what is maintaining the behavior you are just guessing. You are then creating an intervention based on a guess. Also when people intervene on a behavior without first doing a FBA the focus tends to be on punishment. In other words the parent or professional is only focusing on reducing the behavior, and there is no emphasis on reaching replacement behaviors.
A FBA is conducted in order to manage challenging behaviors. Challenging behaviors are things like aggression, tantrumming, noncompliance, elopement (wandering away from home or others), self harm, cursing, skipping school, etc. In an ideal situation, a qualified BCBA would be the person conducting the entire FBA process. Unfortunately, that isn’t always possible. Some school districts or families cannot afford to hire a BCBA. Or you might be in a rural area and be put on a waiting list to receive services from a BCBA.
The steps to conducting a FBA are:
Identify the target behavior
Gather information and data
Create a hypothesis to explain the behavior
Create an intervention based on the hypothesis
Gather information and data
Identify the target behavior- A target behavior is what you want to change. You need to make the target behavior so simple and broken down that a stranger could read it on a piece of paper and know the target behavior when they see it. A great example of a target behavior is “Tantrum behavior, defined as falling to the ground accompanied by crying and throwing objects”. A bad example of a target behavior is “Tantrumming is when Billy acts up, and cries a lot”.
Gather information and data- Next you want to put on your detective hat, and start gathering information about the behavior. You want to know when it happens, where it happens, who it happens with, and most importantly why it happens. Observe the child, talk to caregivers (parents, teachers, babysitters, grandma, etc.), and look for patterns or peaks. A pattern is if the behavior always happens right after someone gives the child a demand. A peak is if the behavior happens the most after lunch, and may or may not occur before then. Use the behavioral tools of “A-B-C”. A is the antecedent, which is what happens before the behavior. B is the behavior. C is the consequence, which is what happens after the behavior. Grab a pen and some paper, and start observing and writing down what you see. Plan to observe and take data for at least a few days, in all of the settings where the behavior happens. If you are a parent doing a FBA by yourself, do not change your reactions to the behavior because you are doing a FBA. Stay true to how you normally react. If you pick your daughter up every time she cries, then keep doing that. If you change your reactions, then the results will not be accurate.
Create a hypothesis to explain the behavior- As I have already stated, every behavior happens for a reason. Of all the possible reasons you can think of, they can be categorized into 4 possible functions: To gain attention (attention), to access an activity or tangible item (positive reinforcement), to escape/avoid a task or item (negative reinforcement), or for modulation of sensory needs (automatic reinforcement). There are some books or resources that will list “to communicate a want and/or desire” as the last function. I believe all behavior is a form of communication (especially with nonverbal children) so I just use these 4 functions. Your data that you gathered and collected is how you know which function you are dealing with. If you used an ABC data form, look at every “A” and “C” column. What is the consequence that occurred the most after the behavior, and what is the antecedent that occurred the most before the behavior? Did the child get laughs from their peers or classmates? That is a function of attention. Did the child get out of doing their homework? That is a function of escape. Does the child do the behavior even when they are alone, or does the data reveal a variable, undifferentiated pattern? That is a function of automatic reinforcement. Be aware that one behavior may have multiple functions, but typically there is a primary function followed by lessor, or secondary functions.
Create an intervention based on the hypothesis- Once you have your hypothesis of why the behavior is happening; now you can create an intervention. There are websites and books out there that describe all kinds of behavioral interventions. Understand that ABA is not about “cut and paste”. What worked for your son, may not work for your daughter. What works for your 2nd grade class, may not work for your 3rd grade class. You will need to create an individual intervention that is appropriate for your child/student, and works for the setting. The intervention you create should teach the child what to do instead of the inappropriate behavior, and it should alter the current relationship between the function and the behavior. In other words, if the function of the behavior is attention, you stop giving attention to the inappropriate behavior and start giving attention to appropriate behaviors. The goal is to give the child a more appropriate way of serving the function of their behavior than whatever it is they are currently doing.
Gather information and data- Yes, this step is listed twice. Many people, even some professionals, think that once you create an intervention and put it in place that you are done. That is not true. You cannot say an intervention has worked and that your FBA was effective until you can show progress regarding the target behavior. Once the intervention is in place, continue to observe the behavior and collect data. Is the behavior still happening at the same rate? Did the behavior go up? Did a new behavior pop up? This step in the process is why it is recommended to locate a qualified BCBA to do a FBA. I call it the “troubleshooting” phase: A therapist or parent is doing an intervention, but it doesn’t seem to be working. At that point I typically collect information, and start gathering data to find out why the intervention isn’t working. Sometimes it’s because the intervention isn’t being followed consistently. Sometimes it’s because the child is going through huge changes (such as a move, or a new school) and an intervention shouldn’t be going on at the same time as that. Sometimes the intervention is an extinction technique, and the family didn’t know to expect an extinction burst. There are many reasons why your intervention might fail. It isn’t uncommon to try out a few interventions before you land on the successful one. The more experience you get with doing a FBA, the better you will get at creating successful interventions.
Lastly, here are a few examples of appropriate interventions for each of the 3 possible functions of behavior. These examples are just a starting point; the actual intervention you create will depend on the child and their setting (school, home, daycare, etc.)-
Function of Positive Reinforcement: Provide ways for the child to receive reinforcement other than the inappropriate behavior, let the child see you give huge attention to siblings/peers engaged in appropriate behavior, redirect the child to a more appropriate behavior.
Function of Attention: Put positive behavior supports in place, do not provide attention for the inappropriate behavior including eye contact, language, or smiles, provide an overabundance of attention when the child is behaving appropriately.
Function of Negative Reinforcement: Teach the child to request a break from working, teach the child to notify others they do not want to do something (like signing “All Done”), make the task or work less difficult, shorten the task, give the child more choices & then honor their choice, make the task more interesting to the child, use extinction.
Function of Automatic Reinforcement: Incorporate a sensory diet, alternate active/ highly stimulating activities with passive/ low stimulating activities, teach the child self control, teach appropriate behavior that serves the same need as the inappropriate behavior, provide free access to preferred toys and activities.
**Quick Tip: Doing an FBA and creating interventions is an intricate, complex process. Do not be discouraged if it takes time and repeated attempts to learn this skill.
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